Since the Sermon was preached, it has pleased GOD to make the like Breaches on the Families of several of my Friends; and, with Regard to some of them, the Affliction hath been attended with Circumstances of yet sorer Aggravation. Tho' several of them are removed to a considerable Distance from me, and from each other I have born their Afflictions upon my Heart with cordial Sympathy; and it is with a particular Desire of serving them, that I have undertaken the sad Task of reviewing and transcribing these Papers; which may almost be called the Minutes of my own Sighs and Tears, over the poor Remains of my eldest and (of this Kind) dearest Hope, when they were not as yet buried out of my Sight.
They are, indeed, full of Affection, and to be sure some may think they are too full of it: But let them consider the Subject, and the Circumstances, and surely they will pardon it. I apprehend, I could not have treated such a Subject coldly, had I writ upon it many years ago, when I was untaught in the School of Affliction, and knew nothing of such a Calamity as this, but by Speculation or Report: How much less could I do it, when GOD had touched me in so tender a Part, and (to allude to a celebrated ancient Story,) called me out to appear on a publick Stage, as with an Urn in my Hand, which contained the Ashes of my own Child!
In such a sad Situation Parents, at least, will forgive the Tears of a Parent, and those Meltings of Soul which overflow in the following Pages. I have not attempted to run thro' the Common place of immoderate Grief, but have only selected a few obvious Thoughts which I found peculiarly suitable to myself; and, I bless GOD, I can truly say, they gave me a solid and substantial Relief, under a Shock of Sorrow, which would otherwise have broken my Spirits.
On my own Experience, therefore, I would recommend them to others, in the like Condition, And let me intreat my Friends and Fellow-Sufferers to remember, that it is not a low Degree of Submission to the Divine Will, which is called for in the ensuing Discourse. It is comparatively an easy Thing to behave with external Decency, to refrain from bold Censures and outragious Complaints, or to speak in the outward Language of Resignation. But it is not, so easy to get rid of every repining Thought, and to forbear taking it, in some Degree at least, unkindly, that the GOD whom we love and serve, in whose Friendship we have long trusted and rejoiced, should act what, to Sense, seems so unfriendly a Part: That he should take away a Child; and if a Child, that Child; and if that Child, at that Age; and if at that Age, with this or that particular Circumstance, which seems the very Contrivance of Providence to add double Anguish to the Wound; and all this, when he could so easily have recalled it; when we know him to have done it for so many others; when we so earnestly desired it; when we sought it with such Importunity, and yet, as we imagine, with so much Submission too: -- That, notwithstanding all this; he should tear it away with an inexorable Hand, and leave us, it may be for a while, under the Load, without any extraordinary Comforts and Supports, to balance so grievous a Tryal. -- In these Circumstances, not only to justify, but to glorify GOD in all, -- chearfully to subscribe to his Will, -- cordially to approve it as merciful and gracious, -- so as to be able to say, as the pious and excellent Archbishop of Cambray did, when his Royal Pupil, and the Hopes of a Nation were taken away[+], "If there needed no more than to move a Straw to bring him to Life again, I would not do it, since the Divine Pleasure is otherwise". -- This, this is a difficult Lesson indeed; a Triumph of Christian Faith and Love, which I fear many of us are yet to learn.
But let us follow after it, and watch against the first Rising of a contrary Temper, as most injurious to GOD, and prejudicial to ourselves. To preserve us against it, let us review the Considerations now to be proposed, as what we are to digest into our Hearts, and work into our Thoughts and our Passions. And I would hope, that if we do in good earnest make the Attempt, we shall find this Discourse a cooling and sweetening Medicine, which may allay that inward Heat and Sharpness, with which, in a Case like ours, the Heart is often inflamed and corroded. I commend it, such as it is, to the Blessing of the great Physician, and could wish the Reader to make up its many Deficiencies, by Mr. Flavel's Token for Mourners, and Dr. Grosvenor's Mourner; to which, if it suit his Relish, he may please to add Sir William Temple's Essay on the Excess of Grief: Three Tracts which, in their very different Strains and Styles, I cannot but look upon as in the Number of the best which our Language, or, perhaps, any other, has produced upon this Subject.
As for this little Piece of mine, I question not, but, like the Generality of single Sermons, it will soon be worn out and forgot. But in the mean time, I would humbly hope, that some tender Parent, whom Providence has joined with me in sad Similitude of Grief, may find some Consolation from it, while sitting by the Coffin of a beloved Child, or mourning over its Grave. And I particularly hope it, with Regard to those dear and valuable Friends, whose Sorrows, on the like Occasion, have lately been added to my own. I desire that, tho' they be not expressly named, they would please to consider this Sermon as most affectionately and respectfully dedicated to them; and would, in Return, give me a Share in their Prayers, that all the Vicissitudes of Life may concur to quicken me in the Duties of it, and to ripen me for that blessed World, where I hope many of those dear Delights, which are now withering around us, will spring up in fairer and more durable Forms. Amen.
Jan. 31, 1736-7.