Thursday, July 21, 2016

"That God Himself Might Fill All" -- Letters to a Grieving Widow

 (The following excerpt is from Robert Mackenzie's biography of John Brown of Haddington. Mackenzie publishes two letters that the Rev. Brown sent to comfort the widow of a former colleague. These letters show not only a sympathetic and gentlemanly character, but also a gentle yet firm determination to glorify God even through pain and loss.)

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In the summer of 1767, while at Perth, [Brown's colleague, John Swanston] was suddenly seized with an inflammatory illness, and died ere he could be removed to his home at Kinross, in the forty-sixth year of his age. ...

His widow had troubled waters to pass through after this loss, and two letters of Brown's have been preserved which he wrote to her in her period of sorrow. They have the warm touch of a sympathetic heart, and a delicacy of expression that unobtrusively links life with its shortcomings and its sufferings, to the central source of all.
To Mrs. Swanston, Kinross
Partly forgetfulness, partly want of time, has occasioned my not writing till now; but how delightful, that Jesus never forgets to show kindness, never wants time! How proper He to supply the place of a husband! no breach deserves the name, if it be filled up with Christ. Few women have had a larger breach made on them than you; yet there is more than enough in Isaiah liv. 5, Hos. ii. 19, 20, Jer. xlix. 11, and Phil. iv. 19, to fill it up. O were your heart and mind filled to the brim with these! with Christ and His redeeming love! That would sweeten all the waters of Marah to us. It would make us always triumph in Christ, and make us think how good and wise a God, that took a husband, took children, took a brother from us, and out of our heart, that God Himself might fill ALL, AND BE ALL IN ALL, and leave us no room for an idol. If God dry up the streams of our comfort, let us have recourse to Him, the fountain of living waters. Here we, though like wild asses' colts, may drink our fill; and here let all your consolation be. Into His bosom pour every complaint, every request. With Him talk on your solitary case, of Him ask counsel in every perplexity. Lay the great burden of the education of the children on Him. "This in haste, wishing the Lord Jesus may support you under your present load, and make what no doubt you reckon a heavy affliction work for you and yours a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. My wife joins in compliments to you and children. 
Yours affectionately, 
April 18th, 1768. 
P.S.—I am glad to see you have a son that is likely to have so much of his father, and I hope he will be a comfort to you. However, let your great comfort be placed in God. All created comforts may soon turn crosses, but Jesus will never turn a cross. O essay to suck comfort out of His fulness and His promises.— J. B.
Seventeen months later another bereavement befell her, and again his busy pen brought her the tender sympathy of a loyal friend.
I would desire to sympathise with you in your late, and I may say mournful repetition of a former trial. God, I see, is trysting you with death after death, to wean your affections from all creatures to Himself. Not long ago you had, as it were, one on every hand of you, betwixt you and death; now you, as it were, stand alone, without either parent or husband. The only safe course now, and I hope the Lord determines your heart to take it, is to press near and keep near the Lord Jesus to supply all wants, that when parents, husband, and all have forsaken you, He may take you up. I beseech you, try to support a sinking heart with that, ' The Lord liveth, and blessed be my rock, and let the God of my salvation be exalted '; and, ' Fear not, I am with thee; be not dismayed, I am thy God.' Promises are sweet morsels at any time, but especially in a day of trouble. The more credit you give God with respect to His promises, the better it will fare with you and your seed. None perish that trust in Him. Let, therefore the motto of your life be, Looking unto Jesus for all you can need. With Him it is more blessed to give than to receive. Though indeed avoiding of proper company is wrong in one that is oppressed with grief, yet there is no companion for a broken heart like Jesus Christ. May your soul now use Him in place of parents and husband, and as your all and in all; for the small remains of children you retain, however agreeable, are but vanity and vexation of spirit, in comparison with Him. 
This in haste from yours affectionately, 
September 18th, 1769.

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