Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not. Thus saith the LORD; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the LORD; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.
~ Jeremiah 31:15-16
But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.
~ Luke 23:28, James 4:9
And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.
~ Revelation 5:5
Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way.
~ Matthew 15:32
A Token for Mourners, or the Advice of Christ to a Distressed Mother Bewailing the Death of Her Dear and Only Son Wherein the Boundaries of Sorrow are Duly Fixed, Excesses Restrained, the Common Pleas Answered, and Divers Rules for the Support of God’s Afflicted Ones Prescribed, by John Flavel. This is an excerpt from the text.
And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.
~ Luke 7:13.
To be above the stroke of passion, is a condition equal to angels: to be in a state of sorrow without the sense of sorrow, is a disposition beneath beasts: but duly to regulate our sorrows, and bound our passions under the rod, is the wisdom, duty, and excellency of a Christian. He that is without natural affections, is deservedly ranked amongst the worst of heathens; and he that is able rightly to manage them, deserves to be numbered with the best of Christians. Though when we are sanctified we put on the Divine nature, yet, till we are glorified, we put not off the infirmities of our human nature.
Whilst we are within the reach of troubles, we cannot be without the danger, nor ought not to be without the fear of sin; and it is as hard for us to escape sin, being in adversity, as becalming in prosperity.
How apt are we to transgress the bounds, both of reason and religion, under a sharp affliction, appears, as in most men’s experience, so in this woman’s example, to whose excessive sorrow Christ puts a stop in the text: “He saw her, and had compassion on her, and said to her, Weep not.”
The lamentations and wailings of this distressed mother, moved the tender compassions of the Lord in beholding them, and stirred up more pity in his heart for her, than could be in her heart for her dear and only son.
In the words we are to consider both the condition of the woman and the counsel of Christ with respect unto it.
First, The condition of this woman, which appears to be very dolorous and distressed; her groans and tears moved and melted the very heart of Christ to hear and behold them: “When he saw her, he had compassion on her.”
How sad an hour it was with her, when Christ met her, appears by what is so distinctly remarked by the evangelist, ver. 12 where it is said, “Now when they came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and much people of the city was with her.”
In this one verse, divers heart-piercing circumstances of this affliction are noted.
Firsts It was the death of a son. To bury a child, any child, must needs rend the heart of a tender parent; for what are children but the parent multiplied? A child is a part of the parent made up in another skin: But to lay a son in the grave, a son who continues the name, and supports the family; this was ever accounted a very great affliction.
Secondly, This son was not carried from the cradle to the coffin, nor stripped out of its swathing, to be wrapped in its winding-cloth. Had he died in his infancy, before he had engaged affection, or raised expectation, the affliction had not been so pungent, and cutting as now it was: death smote the son in the flower and prime of his time. He was a man, (saith the evangelist) ver. 12 a young man, (as Christ calls him) ver. 14 he was now arrived at that age which made him capable of yielding his mother all that comfort which had been the expectation and hope of many years, and the reward and fruit of many cares and labours: yet then, when the endearments were greatest, and her hopes highest, even in the flower of his age he is cut off.
Thus Basil bewailed the death of his son: ‘I once had a son, who was a young man, my only successor, the solace of my age, the glory of his kind, the prop of my family, arrived to the endearing age; then was he snatched away from me by death, whose lovely voice but a little before I heard, who lately was a pleasant spectacle to his parent.’
Reader, if this hath been thine own condition, as it hath been his that writes it, I need say no more to convince thee that it was a sorrowful state indeed, Christ met this tender mother in.
Thirdly, And which is yet more, he was not only a son, but an only son: so you find, in ver. 12. “He was the only son of his mother;” one in whom all her hopes and comforts, of that kind, were bound up. For, Omnis in Ascanio, stat chari cura parentis, Virgil. All her affections were contracted into this one object. If we have never so many children, we know not which of them to spare; if they stand like olive plants about our tables, it would grieve us to see the least twig amongst them broken down. But surely the death of one out of many is much more tolerable than all in one.
Hence it is noted in scripture as the greatest of earthly sorrows, Jer. 6:26. “O daughter of my people, gird thee with sackcloth, and wallow thyself in ashes. Make thee mourning as for an only son, most bitter lamentation.” Yea, so deep and penetrating is this grief, that the Holy Ghost borrows it to express the deepest spiritual troubles by it, Zech. 12:10. “They shall mourn for him, (namely Christ,) whom they have pierced as one mourneth for an only son.”
Fourthly, And yet, to heighten the affliction, it is superadded, ver. 12. “And she was a widow.” So that the staff of her age, on which she leaned, was broken:‡ she had now none left to comfort or assist her, in her helpless, comfortless state of widowhood; which is a condition not only void of comfort, but exposed to oppression, and contempt.
Yea, and being a widow, the whole burthen lay upon her alone; she had not an husband to comfort her, as Elkanah did Hannah, in 1 Sam. 1:8. “Why weepest thou, and why is thy heart grieved? Am not I better to thee than ten sons?” This would have been a great relief; but her husband was dead, as well as her son, both gone, and she only surviving, to lament the loss of those comforts that once she had. Her calamities came not single, but one after another, and this reviving, and aggravating the former. This was her case, and condition, when the Lord met her.
Secondly, Let us consider the counsel which Christ gave her, with respect to this, her sad, and sorrowful case: “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.” Relieving and supporting words; wherein we shall consider,
1. The occasion.
2. The motive.
3. The counsel itself.
1. The occasion of it, and that was his seeing of her. This meeting at the gate of the city, how accidental, and occasional soever it seems, yet without doubt, it was providentially suited to the work intended to be wrought: The eye of his omniscience foresaw her, and this meeting was by him designed as an occasion of that famous miracle which he wrought upon the young man. Christ hath a quick eye to discern poor, mourning, and disconsolate creatures: And though he be now in heaven, and stands out of our sight, so that we see him not; yet he sees us, and his eye (which is upon all our troubles) still affects his heart, and moves his bowels for us.
2. The motive stirring him up to give this relieving, and comfortable counsel to her, was his own compassion: She neither expected, nor desired it from him; but so full of tender pity was the Lord towards her, that he prevents her with unexpected consolation: Her heart was nothing so full of compassion for her son, as Christ was for her; he bore our infirmities, even natural, as well as moral ones, in the days of his flesh; and though he be now exalted to the highest glory, yet still he continues as merciful as ever, and as apt to be touched with the sense of our miseries, Heb. 4:15.
Lastly, The counsel itself, Weep not; herein fulfilling the office of a comforter to them that mourn, whereunto he was anointed, Isa. 61:1, 2, 3. Yet the words are not an absolute prohibition of tears, and sorrow; he doth not condemn all mourning as sinful, or all expressions of grief for dead relations as uncomely; no, Christ would not have his people stupid, and insensate; he only prohibits the excesses, and extravagancies of our sorrows for the dead, that it should not be such a mourning for the dead as is found among the heathen, who sorrow without measure, because without hope, being ignorant of that grand relief, which the gospel reveals.
The resurrection of her son from the dead, is the ground upon which Christ builds her consolation, and relief; well might he say, Weep not, when he intended quickly to remove the cause of her tears, by restoring him again to life.
Now, though there be somewhat in this case extraordinary, and peculiar, for few or none that carry their dead children to the grave, may expect to receive them again from the dead immediately, by a special resurrection, as she did; I say, this is not to be expected by any that now lose their relations; the occasion and reason of such miraculous, special resurrections, being removed, by a sufficient and full evidence, and confirmation of Christ’s divine power and Godhead; yet those that now bury their relations, if they be such as die in Christ, have as good and sufficient reason to moderate their passions, as this mourner had, and do as truly come within the reach and compass of this Christ’s comfortable, and supporting counsel, Weep not, as she did: For do but consider, what of support or comfort can a particular and present resurrection from the dead give us, more than that it is, and as it is, a specimen, handsel, or pledge of the general resurrection? It is not the returning of the soul to its body, to live an animal life again, in this world of sin and sorrow, and shortly after to undergo the agonies, and pains of death again, that is in itself any such privilege as may afford much comfort to the person raised, or his relations: It is no privilege to the person raised, for it returns him from rest to trouble, from the harbour back again into the ocean. It is matter of trouble to many dying saints, to hear of the likelihood of their returning again, when they are got so nigh to heaven.
It was once the case of a godly minister of this nation, who was much troubled at his return, and said, I am like a sheep driven out of the storm almost to the fold, and then driven back into the storm again; or a weary traveller that is come near his home, and then must go back to fetch somewhat he had forgotten; or an apprentice, whose time is almost expired, and then must begin a new term.
But to die, and then return again from the dead, hath less of privilege, than to return only from the brink of the grave; for the sick hath not yet felt the agonies and last struggles, or pangs of death; but such have felt them once, and must feel them again, they must die twice, before they can be happy once; and, besides, during the little time they spend on earth betwixt the first and second dissolution, there is a perfect αμνησια, forgetfulness, and insensibleness, of all that which they saw, or enjoyed, in their estate of separation: It being necessary both for them and others, that it should be so. For themselves it is necessary, that they may be content to live, and endure the time of separation from that blessed and ineffable state, quietly and patiently; and for others, that they may live by faith, and not by sense; and build upon divine, and not human authority and report.
So that here you see, their agonies and pangs are doubled, and yet their lives not sweetened by any sense of their happiness, which returns and remains with them; and therefore it can be no such privilege to them.
And for their relations: Though it be some comfort to receive them again from the dead; yet the consideration that they are returned to them into the stormy sea, to partake of new sorrows and troubles, from which they were lately free: And in a short time they must part with them again, and feel the double sorrows of a parting pull, which others feel but once; surely such a particular resurrection, considered in itself, is no such ground of comfort as at first we might imagine it to be.
It remains, then, that the ground of all solid comfort and relief, against the death of our relations, lies in the general and last resurrection, and what is in a particular one, is but, as it were, a specimen and evidence of the general: and there the apostle places our relief, 1 Thes. 4:17. that we shall see and enjoy them again, at the Lord’s coming. And surely this is more than if (with this mother in the text) we should presently receive them from the dead, as she did her son: And if we judge not so, it is because our hearts are carnal, and measure things rather by time and sense, than by faith and eternity.
Thus you see the counsel, with its ground, which, for the most part, is common to other Christian mourners with her; the difference being but inconsiderable, and of little advantage.
Here, then, you find many aggravations of sorrow meeting together; a son, an only son, is carrying to the grave; yet Christ commands the pensive mother not to mourn.
Hence we note,
Doctrine. That Christians ought to moderate their sorrows for their dead relations, how many afflicting circumstances, and aggravations soever meet together in their death.
It is as common with men, yea, with good men, to exceed in their sorrows for dead relations†, as it is to exceed in their love and delights to living relations; and both of the one, and the other, we may say, as they say of waters, It is hard to confine them within their bounds. It is therefore grave advice which the apostle delivers in this case, 1 Cor. 7:29, 30. “But this I say, brethren, the time is short; it remaineth that both they that have wives, be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and those that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not.” As if he had said, the floating world is near its port;‡ God hath contracted the sails of man’s life; it is but a point of time we have to live, and shortly it will not be a point to choose whether we had wives or not, children or not. All these are time-eaten things, and before the expected fruit of these comforts be ripe, we ourselves may be rotten. It is therefore an high point of wisdom to look upon things which shortly will not be, as if already they were not, and to behave ourselves in the loss of these carnal enjoyments, as the natural man behaves himself in the use of spiritual ordinances; he hears as if he heard not, and we should weep as if we wept not; their affections are a little moved, sometimes by spiritual things, but they never lay them so to heart, as to be broken-hearted for the sin they hear of, or deeply affected with the glory revealed. We also ought to be sensible of the stroke of God upon our dear relations; but yet still we must weep, as if we wept not; that is, we must keep due bounds, and moderation in our sorrows, and not to be too deeply concerned for these dying, short- lived things.
To this purpose the apostle exhorts, Heb. 12:5. “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, neither faint when thou art rebuked of him.” These are two extremes, despising and fainting: when God is correcting, to say, I do not regard it, let God take all, if he will; if my estate must go, let it go; if my children die, let them die: this is to despise the Lord’s chastening; and God cannot bear it, that we should bear it thus lightly.
There is also another extreme, and that is fainting: if, when goods are taken away the heart be taken away, and when children die, then the spirit of the parent dies also; this is fainting under the rod. Thou lamentest, saith Senaca, thy deceased friend; but I would not have thee grieve beyond what is meet: that thou shouldest not grieve at all, I dare not require thee; tears may be excused, if they do not exceed. Let thine eyes, therefore, be neither wholly dry, nor let them overflow: weep thou mayest, but wail thou must not.
Happy man, that still keeps the golden bridle of moderation upon his passions, and affections, and still keeps the possession of himself, whatsoever he lose the possession of.
Now the method in which I propose to proceed, shall be,
1. To discover the signs,
2. To dissuade from the sin,
3. To remove the pleas,
4. To propose the cure of immoderate sorrow.
First, I shall give you the signs of immoderate sorrow, and shew you when it exceeds its bounds, and becomes sinful, even a sorrow to be sorrowed for; and, for clearness sake, I will first allow what may be allowed to the Christian mourner, and then you will the better discern wherein the excess and sinfulness of your sorrow lies.
And, First, How much soever we censure, and condemn immoderate sorrow; yet the afflicted must be allowed an awakened, and tender sense of the Lord’s afflicting hand upon them. It is no virtue to bear what we do not feel; yea, it is a most unbecoming temper, not to tremble when God is smiting.
The Lord saith to Moses, in the case of Miriam, Numb. 12:14. “If her father had spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days?” The face is the table, and seat of beauty and honour; but when it is spit upon, it is made the sink of shame. Had her own father spit upon her face when she had displeased him, would she not have gone aside, as one ashamed by such a rebuke, and not have shewed her face to him again in seven days? How much more should she take it to heart, and be sensible of this rebuke of mine, who have filled her face with leprous spots, the signs of my displeasure against her? Surely God will be ashamed of those that are not ashamed when he rebukes them.
It is not magnanimity, but stupidity, to make light of God’s corrections; and for this the afflicted are smartly taxed, Jer. 5:3. “I have smitten them, but they have not grieved.” When God smote Job in his person, children, and estate, he arose and rent his mantle, and put dust upon his head, to shew he was not senseless and unaffected, and yet blessed the afflicting God; which, as plainly shewed he was not contumacious and unsubmissive.
Secondly, We must allow the mourning, afflicted soul, a due and comely expression of his grief and sorrow in his complaints both to God and men.
It is much more becoming a Christian, ingeniously to open his troubles, than suddenly to smother them. There is no sin in complaining to God, but much wickedness in complaining of him. Griefs are eased by groans and heart-pressures relieved by utterance. This was David’s course and constant way, who was a man of afflictions, Psalm 142:2, 3. “I poured out my complaint before him, I shewed before him my trouble; when my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knowest my path.”
To whom should children go, but to their father, to make their moan? Whence may they expect relief and comfort but from him? The 102nd Psalm is intituled, “A Psalm for the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the Lord.”
And happy were it if every afflicted soul would choose this way to express his sorrows. Did we complain more to God, he would complain less of us, and quickly abate the matters of our complaint. O you cannot think how moving, how melting, how prevailing it is with God, when his poor, burdened, and afflicted people in a day of distress and despondency, when deep calleth unto deep, and one wave drives on another, then for the oppressed soul, with humility, filial confidence, and faith, to turn itself to the Lord, and thus bespeak him.
‘Father, what shall I do? My soul is greatly bowed down by trouble; I am full to the brim, my vain heart hath looked for relief this way and that way, but none comes; every door of comfort is shut up against me: Thou hast multiplied my sorrows, and renewed my witnesses against me:
Comfort is removed from my outward, and peace from my inner man; sharp afflictions without, and bitter reflections within. O Lord, I am oppressed, undertake for me. Fathers of the flesh pity their distressed children, when they complain to them; and wilt not thou, O Lord, whose compassions as far exceed creature-compassions as the sea exceeds a drop; O my Father. pity me, support me, deliver me.’
O how acceptable is this to God. how advantageous to the soul.
We may also make our complaint to men. So did Job, chap. 19. ver. 21. “Have pity, have pity on me, O ye my friends, for the hand of God hath touched me.” And it is a mercy if we have any friends that are wise, faithful, and experienced; they are born for such a time as this, Prov. 17:17 but be they what they will, they cannot pity as God, relieve and succour as he; and oftentimes we may say with Job, chap. 21. ver. 4. “As for me, is my complaint to men? And if it were, why should not my spirit be troubled?” q. d. What great advantage can I get by these complaints? I may burden the heart of my friend, but how little doth that ease my own? Yet the very opening of the heart to an experienced, tender Christian, is some relief, and the engaging his prayers is more. Thus far you moan safely, in all this there is no danger.
Thirdly, The afflicted person may (ordinarily) accuse, judge, and condemn himself, for being the cause and procurer of his own troubles. He may lawfully be discontented and vexed with himself for his own folly, when the iniquity of his heels compasseth him about. And truly it is but seldom that any great affliction befals a gracious person, but he saw the need of such a rod before he felt it.
Hath God smitten thy child, or friend, and didst thou not foresee some sharp trial coming? Did not thy fond, secure, carnal temper, need such a scourge to awaken, quicken, and purge thee? Or, if you did not foresee it, it is now your duty to search and examine yourselves. So the church, in her affliction, resolved, Lam. 3:40. “Let us search and try our ways.” When God is smiting, we should be a searching: Surely our iniquities will enquire after us if we will not enquire after them: Yea, in the day of affliction, a gracious soul is inquisitive about nothing more than the procuring and provoking cause of his troubles, Job 10:2. “Shew me wherefore thou contendest with me;” q. d. Lord, what special corruption is it that this rod is sent to rebuke? What sinful neglect doth it come to humble me for? O discover it now to me, and recover me now from it.
And having found the root and cause of their troubles, ingenuous souls will shame themselves for it, and give glory to God by an humble submission and vindication of the equity of his proceedings, Job 7:20. “I have sinned, what shall I do unto thee, thou preserver of men?” He thinks it no shame freely to discover unto God, and deeply to abase himself before him for his folly.
I remember a choice note that Mr. Brightman hath in his commentary upon the Canticles.
‘Holy men, saith he, after their hearts are renewed by repentance, are not ashamed to remember and confess their slips, and shameful falls to the glory of God; for they account that the glory which such confessions take from them, is not lost, whilst it goes to the glory of God.’ If his glory may rise out of our shame, how willing should we be to take such shame to us? Holy David was not ashamed to acknowledge, Psal. 38:5. “My wounds stink, and are corrupted, because of my foolishness.” He is the wisest man that thus befools himself before God.
It is true, God may afflict from prerogative, or for trial; but we may always see cause enough in ourselves, and it is safest to charge it upon our own folly.
Lastly, The afflicted Christian may, in an humble, submissive manner, plead with God, and be earnest for the removal of the affliction.
When affliction presseth us above strength, when it disables us for duty, or when it gives advantage to temptation; then we may say with David, “Remove thy stroke from me, I am consumed by the blow of thine hand,” Psal. 39:10. Even our Lord Jesus Christ, in the day of his troubles, poured out his soul with strong cries and many tears, saying, “Father, if thou be willing, let this cup pass from me,” Luke 22:42. Oppressed nature desires ease, and even our renewed nature desires freedom from those clogs and temptations, which hinder us in duty, or expose us to snares.
Thus far we may safely go.
But sorrow then becomes sinful and excessive, when,
First, It causeth us to slight and despise all our other mercies, and enjoyments as small things, in comparison of what we have lost.
It often falls out, that the setting of one comfort, clouds and be-nights all the rest. Our tears for our lost enjoyments so blind our eyes, that we cannot see the many other mercies which yet remain: We take so much notice of what is gone, that we take little or no notice of what is left. But this is very sinful, for it involves in it both ignorance, ingratitude, and great provocation.
It is a sin springing from ignorance. Did we know the desert of our sins, we should rather wonder to see one mercy left, than that twenty are cut off. They that know they have forfeited every mercy, should be thankful that they enjoy any, and patient when they lose any of their comforts.
Did we know God, even that sovereign Lord at whose dispose our comforts come and go, who can the next moment blast all that remain, and turn you into hell afterwards, you would prize the mercies he yet indulges to you, at an higher value. Did you understand the fickle, vanishing nature of the creature, what a flower, what a bubble it is; O how thankful would you be to find so many yet left in your possession.
Did you know the case of thousands, as good, yea, better than you, whose whole harvest of comfort in this world is but a handful to the gleanings of the comforts you still enjoy, who in all their lives never were owners of such comfortable enjoyments as you now overlook; surely you would not act as you do.
Besides, what vile ingratitude is in this? What, are all your remaining mercies worth nothing? You have buried a child, a friend; well, but still you have a husband, a wife, other children; or if not, you have comfortable accommodations for yourselves, with health to enjoy them; or if not, yet have you the ordinances of God, it may be, an interest in Christ and in the covenant, pardon of sin, and hopes of glory. What, and yet sink at this rate, as if all your mercies, comforts, and hopes, even in both worlds, were buried in one grave. Must Ichabod be written upon your best mercies, because mortality is written upon one? Fy, fy, what shameful ingratitude is here.
And really, friend, such a carriage as this under the rod is no small provocation to the Lord to go on in judgment, and make a full end of all that remains, so that affliction shall not rise up the second time.
What if God, taking notice how little thou regardest the many undeserved favours thou yet possessest, should say, well, if thou thinkest them not worth the owning, neither do I think them worth the continuing? Go, death, there is a husband, a wife, other children yet left, smite them all. Go, sickness, and remove the health of his body yet left; go losses, and impoverish his estate yet left; go, reproach, and blast his reputation, which is yet sweet; what would you think of this? And yet, if you be out of Christ, you are in danger of a far sadder stroke than any, or all yet mentioned? what if God should say, Prizest thou not my mercy? Hast thou no value for my goodness and forbearance towards thee? Is it nothing that I have spared thee thus long in thy sins and rebellions? Well then, I will stretch out my hand upon thy life, cut off that thread which hath kept thee so many years from dropping into hell.
O think then what you have done by provoking the Lord, through your vile ingratitude. It is a dangerous thing to provoke God, when he is already in a way of judgment. And if you be his own people, and so out of the danger of this last and worse stroke; yet know, you have better mercies to lose than any you have yet lost. Should God cloud your souls with doubts, let loose Satan to buffet you, remove joy and peace from your inner man, how soon would you be convinced that the funeral of your dearest friend is but a trifle to this?
Well then, whatever God takes, be still thankful for what he leaves. It was the great sin of Israel in the wilderness, that though God had delivered them from their cruel servitude in Egypt, miraculously fed them in the desert, and was leading them on to a land flowing with milk and honey; yet as soon as any want did but begin to pinch them, presently all these mercies were forgotten and slighted. Num. 14:12. “Would to God (say they) we had died in Egypt.” And, Num. 11:6. “There is nothing at all beside this manna.” Beware of this, O ye mourning and afflicted ones. You see both the sin that is in it, and the danger that attends it.
Secondly, And no less sinful are our sorrows, When they so wholly ingulph our hearts, that we either mind not at all, or are little or nothing sensible of the public evils and calamities which lie upon the church and people of God.
Some Christians have such public spirits, that the church’s troubles I swallow up their personal troubles. Melancthon seemed to take little notice of the death of his child which he dearly loved, being almost overwhelmed with the miseries lying on the church.
And it was a good evidence of the graciousness and publicness of Eli’s spirit, who sitting in the gate anxiously waiting for tidings from the army, when the tidings came that Israel fled before the Philistines, that his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas were dead, and that the ark of God was taken, just at the mention of that word, The Ark of God, before he heard out the whole narration, his mind quickly presaged the issue, he sunk down and died, 1 Sam. 4:17, 18. O that was the sinking, the killing word; had the messenger stopt at the death of his two sons, like enough he had supported that burden; but the loss of the ark was more to him than sons or daughters.
But how few such public spirits appear even among professors in this selfish generation? May we not with the apostle complain, Phil. 2:21. “All seek their own, and not the things that are of Christ:” Few men have any great cares or designs lying beyond the bounds of their own private interest. And what we say of cares is as true of sorrows: If a child die, we are ready to die too, but public calamities pierce us not.
How few suffer either their domestic comforts to be swallowed up in the church’s troubles, or their domestic troubles to be swallowed up by the church’s mercies. Now when it is thus with us, we little regard what mercies or miseries lie upon others, but are wholly intent upon our own afflictions, this is a sinful sorrow, and ought to be sorrowed for.
Thirdly, Our sorrows then become sinful and exorbitant, When they divert us from, or distract us in our duties, so that our intercourse with heaven is stopt and interrupted by them.
How long can we sit alone musing upon a dead creature? Here our thoughts easily flow; but how hard to fix them upon the living God. when our hearts should be in heaven, with our Christ, they are in the grave with our dead. May not many afflicted souls justly complain, that their troubles had taken away their Christ from them, (I mean as to sweet sensible communion) and laid the dead child in his room?
Poor creature, cease to weep any longer for thy dead relation, and weep rather for thy dead heart. Is this thy compliance with God’s design in afflicting thee? What, to grow a greater stranger to him than before. Or is this the way to thy cure and comfort in affliction, to refrain prayer, and turn thy back upon God?
Or if thou darest not wholly neglect thy duty, yet thy affliction spoils the success and comfort of it; thy heart is wandering, dead, distracted in prayer and meditation, so that thou hast no relief or comfort from it.
Rouse up thyself, Christian, and consider this is not right. Surely the rod works not kindly now. What, did thy love to God expire when thy friend expired? Is thy heart as cold in duty, as his body is in the grave.
Hath natural death seized him, and spiritual deadness seized thee? Sure then thou hast more reason to lament thy dead heart, than thy dead friend. Divert the stream of thy troubles speedily, and labour to recover thyself out of this temper quickly; lest sad experience shortly tell thee, that what thou now mournest for is but a trifle to what thou shalt mourn for hereafter. To lose the heavenly warmth and spiritual liveliness of thy affections, is undoubtedly a far more considerable loss, than to lose the wife of thy bosom, or the sweetest child that ever a tender parent laid in the grave.
Reader, if this be thy case, thou hast reason to challenge the first place among the mourners. It is better for thee to bury ten sons, than to remit one degree of love or delight in God. The end of God in smiting was to win thy heart nearer to him by removing that which estranged it; how then dost thou cross the very design of God in this dispensation? Must God then lose his delight in thy fellowship, because thou hast lost thine in the creature? Surely, when thy troubles thus accompany thee to thy closet, they are sinful and extravagant troubles.