"Now she that is a Widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day." *
* Preached at the house of one made a widow by her husband's desertion; who left her in straitened circumstances to provide for a young family.
Timothy was ordained a bishop of the church at Ephesus; and this epistle was written to him by St. Paul, his spiritual father, to teach him "how to behave himself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God."
The former part of the context contains directions respecting the treatment of widows; and especially poor widows who belonged to the church, and were supported at their expense. He is first directed to "honor widows who were widows indeed." Here the apostle explains his meaning, by designating the character intended. Now "She that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day."
Every widow did not answer to this description. There were some who answered to no part of it, as he shews below. These Timothy was not required to honor -- not directed to provide for them, or employ them in the business of the church; though certain poor and pious women were then used to minister to the sick, of their own sex, and discharge other charitable labors among them.
In discoursing on our subject, we shall make a few observations on the sorrows of widowhood; then glance at the duties of it; and the supports which God hath provided for widows indeed.
A widowed state is naturally desolate, Most widows pass many solitary hours -- a lonesome and melancholy situation; -- especially after having known and enjoyed the social intercourse of connubial life. The value of all our comforts is best known by experience; more especially by their loss, after a temporary possession.
But the conjugal connexion is sometimes unhappy. In such cases a widowed state is a release from the trials and difficulties which attended it, which may be severe and distressing. The misconduct, or unkindness of those in the nearest relation, wounds in the tenderest part, and occasions the most pungent grief. True. -- Yet a state of widowhood, after such a connexion, is commonly more unhappy than after a happy marriage. Many disagreeables are generally left to afflict the desolate. Reflections on such connexions and the trying scenes passed while they continued, are disagreeable; and many cares peculiar to their situation often distress the widows. The care of offspring, where there are offspring, devolves wholely on them; which, if left in straitened circumstances, is often a burden they are unable to bear. And where aid is kindly afforded, still the concern which lies on them, is oft times distressing. "Pangs and sorrows take hold upon them -- their couch is wet with tears; their eyes consumed with grief." If those thus tried are widows indeed, they follow the line drawn in the text -- trust in God, and continue in prayers and supplications night and day.
As it is the duty, it is also the comfort and support of the desolate to trust in God. When streams dry up, we go to the fountain: So when creature comforts fail, interest unites with duty, in pointing us tothe Creator. He is the source of comfort -- that which comes by means of the creature comes from him. The creature is only the medium of conveyance.
When the saints become desolate -- when their worldly comforts fail and their hopes decay, they are directed to return to God and put their trust in him; and also to bring with them, those for whom they feel interested -- their helpless dear ones, and he hath promised them protection. "Leave thy fatherless children, and I will preserve them alive, and let thy widows trust in me."
Fallen creatures are exceedingly prone to lean to the world -- to promise themselves comfort in it, and support from it. They generally look elsewhere before they look to God. Disappointed in one worldly object they often run to another, and another. They never come to the Creator, and make him their hope, till convinced that what they seek is not to be found in the creature. God sometimes brings his people into straits, and strips them of their earthly dependencies, that having no where else to trust they may come to him and cast their care upon him.
Even the Christian may need the rod of adversity to keep him mindful of his dependence on God, and prevent his resting on the creature for support. For after union with Christ, worldly objects retain too large a share of his affection, and he is too much inclined to lean upon them. His attachment to these things is often too strong; draws away his heart from God, and renders him too little mindful of him who is his portion and rest. Therefore is it often necessary to deprive him of his earthly dependencies, that being desolate, he may return to God and renew his reliance on him.
It becomes the desolate, not only to trust in God, but to be thankful that they may trust in him. Those who have God for their portion, have an abiding satisfying portion. God will be more and better to them than earthly friends, or earthly treasures. Friends often forsake them; or cease to be friends, and become enemies -- "Riches take to themselves wings and fly away." But God abides; he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. *
* Hebrews xiii.5.
Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, while she trusteth in God continueth in supplications and prayers night and day.
Those of this character when they find themselves destitute of worldly comforts and supports, go to God and pour out their souls into his bosom. Like the Psalmist they stir up themselves to trust in him. We find that saint expostulating with himself in a time of trouble and darkness, and chiding his despondent temper. "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God."
While thus stirring up themselves to trust in God, the saints pour out their souls before him in fervent prayer. This the apostle declares to be the manner of those, whom he terms widows indeed -- they trust in God, and continue in supplications and prayers night and day.
Such was the aged Anna, who met the infant Savior, when he was brought into the temple, to do for him after the custom of the law. "She departed not from the temple, but served God, with fastings and prayers night and day."
The child, when in affliction, is wont to run to its parents and tell them the sad tale of its sorrows. So the child of God, stripped of other supports, spreads its grief before him who possesses all power, and is able to deliver out of all distresses: And as the child continues its cries and pleadings with its parent, as long as its sorrows continue; so the child of God, while it remains in affliction, perseveres in supplications and prayers to its Father in heaven.
When seeking temporal blessings the good man asks with submission, "Not as I will but as thou wilt" -- teach me to acquiesce in thy dealings and to say "thy will be done." But when seeking spiritual blessings, he cannot be too importunate, or persevering. Respecting these, the divine glory, unites with his interest, in requiring him to "be instant in prayer -- to pray and not faint." Or, to use the bold language of the prophet, to resolve to "give God no rest," till he hears and helps. In such cases the saints may plead God's honor and the glory of his great name, as well as their own necessities.
When we come to ask mercy of God, and to pray for grace to love and serve him, we may plead and expostulate for the bestowment. Is it not thy will, that we should be renewed and sanctified -- that we should repent of sin -- believe the gospel, and follow after holiness? Is it not thy will that we should become new creatures -- love thee -- love our duty, and resign ourselves to thy disposal? Is it not thy will, that we should act with propriety under every trial, and discharge with faithfulness every duty -- that we should honor thee in adversity, as well as in prosperity? Grant us then those divine influences which are necessary for us. The honor of thy great name is concerned -- it unites with our necessities in requiting the bestowment of the mercies which we ask.
Thus did Moses when pleading for Israel, when God had threatened to destroy them for their rebellions against him. "Now if thou kill this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the same of thee, shall speak saying, Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore hath he slain them in the wilderness -- pardon, I beseech thee, the sin of this people, according to the greatness of thy mercy" -- So Joshua, on a similar occasion: His plea in their behalf is urged from this consideration, that the honor of God was concerned, and required the mercy which he implored -- "What wilt thou do unto thy great name? What? If Israel turn their backs before their enemies? If thy people fail to drive out their enemies and possess the land which thou hast sworn to give them?"
We may use the same argument when interceding for the grace which we need to enable us to glorify God by a becoming temper and conduct under trials, and by a suitable improvement of providential dispensations; and it will be our best plea, or most prevalent argument.
We may meet with discouragements -- God may seem deaf to our cries -- to delay his mercy; but if we "pray and faint not," he will not always say to us, nay. He will hear and help us. For his own name's sake he will do it.
When the woman of Canaan asked mercy for her daughter, no encouragement was given to her first petition -- the reply seemed harsh -- "It is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it to dogs." But she persevered, and her faith, and fervor prevailed. "Be it unto thee even as thou wilt." The same will be the answer to every humble suppliant for spiritual mercies, and for divine supports, who perseveres in his addresses at the throne of grace.
Respecting temporal matters, we know not what to pray for as we ought -- know not what is best for us. Afflictions may be mercies. They often are so. Some have blessed God for them here; more will probably do it hereafter. That they do not usually denote want of love in God, is manifest from the declarations of his word -- "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons -- if ye are without chastisement, then are ye bastards and not sons." Those were determined sinners, given over to reprobation, of whom God said, "Why should ye be stricken any more! Ye will revolt more and more."
When afflictions serve to purge away sin -- to "purify and make white," they are changed into mercies. Instead of complaining, we have reason to bless God for them. This hath often happened. Afflictions arrest the attention -- lead to consideration, and reclaim from error. "Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I keep thy word."
Prosperity hath often a different effect. To the wicked it is frequently fatal in its consequences; here they have their good things, and they rest in them, forgetful of God, and the other world which they must soon enter, to receive according to their works. Neither do the people of God always escape injury when they attain the things they here desire. The prosperity we covet is more dangerous than the adversity we dread. Few can bear prosperity -- few remain long uncorrupted in a prosperous state. A state so difficult and dangerous is seldom long the state of the righteous. It is more commonly the state of the wicked. The righteous have their trials here; and this kind of trial, [prosperity] hath more often seduced them, than its opposite. David and Solomon were sad examples of the baleful effects of power and greatness, riches and honor; but they were brought back to God and duty by the rod of disappointment; -- by the correctings of affliction.
Adversity is not always productive of good. Some repine at the orders of providence -- at their lot in the world. Trials sour their minds and render them morose and peevish. We read of some who "blaspheme the God of heaven" because of their sufferings. These are enemies of God, and their sufferings here, are a prelude to greater sufferings hereafter. The case is different with those who have Christ's spirit; they see a providence in whatever they meet with here; refer themselves to him who rules over all to choose for them, and order out their changes, not doubting but his grace will be sufficient for them, and all work for their good.
We are sure that God orders wisely. The station then, which he assigns to us, is most suitable for us; the comforts and corrections which he dispenses, most fit and proper. If wise for ourselves we would not wish for alterations in them. We shall only be concerned to follow where God leads, and only pray that he will not leave us, but guide us to his kingdom.
Let us bring home these considerations, and inquire how we are affected by God's dealings with us, and what temper we maintain? We have comforts and corrections. Do we see the hand of God in them; acknowledge the comforts to be undeserved, and the corrections less than our demerits? Do we bless God for the former, and humble ourselves under the latter? Or do the former render us forgetful of God, and proud and scornful towards men? Do the latter humble and abase us; keep us mindful that this is not our rest, and quicken our preparations for that world where all tears will he wiped away from our eyes? Or do they cause us to murmur and repine, as though we suffered unjustly?
Both mercies and afflictions will be a favor of life or death, according to the effect which they have upon us, and the temper and disposition they produce in us. If mercies increase our love to God, and concern to honor him, then are they mercies indeed. So are afflictions, if they humble us and quicken us in the way of duty; but if their effect is different they increase our guilt, and will increase our condemnation.
Whatever may be our situation here -- whether we have kind and faithful friends, or are left desolate, or are surrounded with enemies; whether we have joys or sorrows, we need the divine influence to enable us to make a good improvement, and to render them the occasion of good. We need divine aid and influence, no less in prosperity than in adversity. Whatever, therefore, may be our situation and circumstances, sensible of our weakness and blindness, let us return to God as our rest, trust in him, and continue in supplications and prayers night and day; and his grace will be sufficient for us; for he hath said to none "seek ye my face in vain."