The Bereavements of the Christian Home. [A]
[Footnote A: In this chapter we have made free use of poetical quotations for the benefit of the afflicted.]

"On, long ago
Those blessed days departed, we are reft,
And scattered like the leaves of some fair rose,
That fall off one by one upon the breeze,
Which bears them where it listeth. Never more
Can they be gathered and become a rose.
And we can be united never more
A family on earth!"

Bereavement involves the providential discipline of home. In almost every household there have been sorrows and tears as well as joys and hopes. As the Christian home is the depository of the highest interests and the purest pleasures, so it is the scene of sad bereavements and of the darkest trials. It may become as desolate as the home of Job. The Christian may, like the aged tree, be stripped of his clusters, his branches, all his summer glory, and sink down into a lonely and dreary existence. His home, which once rang with glad voices, may become silent and sad and hopeless. Those hearts which once beat with life and love, may become still and cold; and all the earthly interests which clustered around his fireside may pass away like the dream of an hour!

The members of home must separate. Theirs is but a probationary state. Their household is but a tent, -- a tabernacle in the flesh, and all that it contains will pass away. The fondest ties will be broken; the brightest hopes will fade; all its joys are transient; its interests meteoric, and the fireside of cheerfulness will ere long become the scene of despondency. Every swing of the pendulum of the clock tells that the time of its probation is becoming shorter and shorter, and that its members are approaching nearer and nearer the period of their separation.

"There is no union here of hearts,
That finds not here an end."

Alas! how soon this takes place! The joy of home would be perfect did not the thought of a speedy separation intrude. No sooner than the voice of childhood is changed, than separation begins to take place. Some separate for another world; some are borne by the winds and waves to distant lands; others enter the deep forests of the West, and are heard of no more; --

"Alas! the brother knows not now where fall the sister's tears! One haply revels at the feast, while one may droop alone; For broken is the household chain, -- the bright fire quenched and gone!"

What melancholy feelings are awakened within at the sight of a deserted home, in which loved ones once met and lived and loved; but from which they have now wandered, each in the path pointed out by the guiding hand of Providence. How beautifully does Mrs. Hemans portray this separation in the following admirable lines! --

"They grew in beauty side by side,
They filled one home with glee;
Their graves are severed, far and wide,
By mount, and stream, and sea.

"The same fond mother bent at night
O'er each fair sleeping brow;
She had each folded flower in sight --
Where are those dreamers now?

"One midst the forests of the West
By a dark stream is laid;
The Indian knows his place of rest
Far in the cedar shade.

"The sea, the blue lone sea, hath one,
He lies where pearls lie deep;
He was the loved of all, yet none
O'er his low bed may weep.

"One sleeps where southern vines are dress'd,
Above the noble slain;
He wrapped his colors round his breast,
On a blood-red field of Spain.

"And one -- o'er her the myrtle showers,
Its leaves by soft winds fanned;
She faded midst Italian flowers --
The last of that fair band.

"And parted thus, they rest, who played
Beneath the same green tree;
Whose voices mingled as they prayed
Around one parent knee!"

It is thus in almost every household. The members may be divided into two classes, -- the present and the absent ones. Who may not say of his family --

"We are not all here!
Some are away -- the dead ones dear,
Who thronged with us this ancient hearth,
And gave the hour of guiltless mirth.
Fate, with a stern, relentless hand,
Looked in and thinned our little band.
Some like a night-flash passed away,
And some sank lingering day by day,
The quiet graveyard -- some lie there, --
We're not all here!"

The bereavements of home are diversified. The reverses of fortune constitute an important class of family afflictions, causing the habits, customs, social privileges and advantages of home to be broken up and changed. Many a family, which, in former days, enjoyed all the pleasures and privileges of wealth and social distinction, have now to struggle with cruel poverty, and receive from the world, scorn and ridicule and dishonor.

But the greatest bereavement of home is, generally, death. They only, who have lived in the house of mourning, know what the sad bereavements are which death produces, and what deep and dark vacancies this last enemy leaves in the stricken heart of home.

"The lips that used to bless you there,
Are silent with the dead."

To-day we may visit the family. What a lovely scene it presents! The members are happy in each other's love, and each one resting his hopes upon all the rest. No cares perplex them; no sorrows corrode them; no trials distress them; no darkness overshadows them! What tender bonds unite them; what hopes cluster around each heart; what a depth of reciprocated affection we find in each bosom; and by what tender sympathy they are drawn to each other!

But alas! in an hour of supposed security, that loving group is broken up by the intrusion of death, and some one or more carried from the bosom of love to the cold and cheerless grave. The curfew-bell speaks the solemn truth, and warns the members that "in the midst of life they are in death." Where is the home that has not some memorial of departed ones, -- a chair empty, a vacant seat at the table, -- garments laid by, -- ashes of the dead treasured up in the urn of memory! What sudden ravages does this ruthless foe of life, often make in the family! The members are often taken away, one by one in quick succession, until all of them are laid, side by side beneath the green sod.

What a memorable epoch in the history of home is that, in which death finds his first entrance within its sacred enclosures, and with ruthless hand breaks the first link of a golden chain that creates its identity! We can never forget that event. It may he the first-born in the radiant beauty of youth, or the babe in the first bursting of life's budding loveliness, or a father in the midst of his anxious cares, or the mother who gave light and happiness to all around her. Whoever it is, the first death makes a breach there which no subsequent bereavement can equal; new feelings are then awakened; a new order of associations is then commenced; hopes and fears are then aroused that never subside; and the mysterious web of family life receives the hue of a new and darker thread.

What a sad bereavement is the death of the husband and father! Children! there is the grave of your father! You have recently heard the clods of the valley groan upon his coffin. The parent stem from which, you grew and to which, you fondly clung, has been shattered by the lightning-stroke of death, and its terrible shock is now felt in every fiber of the wrenched and torn branches. Yours is now a widowed and an orphaned home. The disconsolate members are left helpless and hopeless in the world; the widowed mother sits by the dying embers of her lonely cottage, overwhelmed with grief, and poor in everything but her children and her God. These orphans are turned out upon the cold charities of an unfriendly world, neglected and forlorn, having no one to care for them but a poor, broken-hearted mother, whose deathless faith points them to the bright spirit-world to which their sainted father has gone, where parting grief shall weep no more.

But a greater bereavement even than this, is, the death of a wife and mother. Ah! here is a bereavement which the child alone can fully feel. When the mother is laid upon the cold bier, and sleeps among the dead, the center of home-love and attraction is gone. What children are more desolate and more to be pitied than the motherless ones? She, who fed them from her gentle breast and sung sweet lullaby to soothe them into sleep, -- she, who taught them to kneel in prayer at her side, and ministered to all their little wants, and sympathized with them in all their little troubles, -- she has now been torn from them, leaving them a smitten flock indeed, and the light of her smile will never again be round their beds and paths. As the shades of night close in upon that smitten home, and the chime of the bell tells the hour in which the mother used to gather them around her for prayer, and sing them to their rosy rest, with what a stricken heart does the bereaved husband seek to perform this office of love in her stead; and as he gathers them for the first time around him, how fully does he feel that none can take a mother's place!

"My sheltering arms can clasp you all,
My poor deserted throng;
Cling as you used to cling to her
Who sings the angel's song.
Begin, sweet ones, the accustomed strain,
Come, warble loud and clear;
Alas, alas! you're weeping all,
You're sobbing in my ear;
Good night; go, say the prayer she taught,
Beside your little bed.
The lips that used to bless you there,
Are silent with the dead.
A father's hand your course may guide
Amid the storms of life,
His care protect those shrinking plants
That dread the storm of strife;
But who, upon your infant hearts,
Shall like that mother write?
Who touch the strings that rule the soul?
Dear smitten flock, good night!"

Who can forget a mother, or lose those impressions which her death made upon our deeply stricken hearts? None, -- not even the wretch who has brutalized all the feelings of natural affection. The memory of a mother's death is as fadeless as the deep impress of a mother's love upon our hearts. As often as we resort to her grave we must leave behind the tribute of our tears. Who can read the following beautiful lines of Cowper, and -- if the memory of a sainted mother is awakened by them, -- not weep?

"My mother! When I learned that thou wast dead,
Say, wast thou conscious of the tears I shed?
Hovered thy spirit o'er thy sorrowing son,
Wretch even then, life's journey just begun!
Perhaps thou gay'st me, though unfelt, a kiss;
Perhaps a tear, if souls can weep in bliss --
Ah, that maternal smile! it answers -- yes!
I heard the bell toll on the burial day,
I saw the hearse that bore thee slow away,
And, turning from my nurs'ry window, drew
A long, long sigh, and wept a last adieu!
But was it such? It was. Where thou art gone.
Adieus and farewells are a sound unknown.
May I but meet thee on that peaceful shore,
The parting word shall pass my lips no more!"

The death of children is a great bereavement of home. Behold that little blossom withered in its mother's arms! See those tears which flood her eyes as she bends in her deep grief over the grave of her cherished babe! Go, fond parents, to that little mound, and weep! It is well to do so; it is well for thee in the twilight hour to steal around that hallowed spot, and pay the tribute of memory to your little one, in flooding tears. There beneath those blooming flowers which the hand of affection planted, it sweetly sleeps. It bids adieu to all the scenes and cares of life. It just began to taste the cup of life, and turned from its ingredients of commingled joy and sorrow, to a more peaceful clime. Cold now is that little heart which once beat its warm pulses so near to thine; hushed is now that sweet voice that once breathed music to your soul. Like the folding up of the rose, it passed away; that beautiful bud which bloomed and cheered your heart, was transplanted ere the storm beat upon it: --

"Death found strange beauty on that polished brow,
And dashed it out --
There was a tint of rose
On cheek and lip. He touched the veins with ice,
And the rose faded.
Forth from those blue eyes
There spake a wishful tenderness, a doubt
Whether to grieve or sleep, which innocence
Alone may wear. With ruthless haste he bound
The silken fringes of those curtained lids
There had been a murmuring sound,
With which the babe would claim its mother's ear,
Charming her even to tears. The spoiler set
His seal of silence.
But there beamed a smile
So fixed, so holy, from that cherub brow,
Death gazed -- and left it there.
He dared not steal
The signet-ring of heaven!"

The death of such an infant is indeed a sore affliction, and causes the bleeding heart of the parent to cry out, "Whose sorrow is like unto my sorrow!" Unfeeling Death! that thou shouldst thus blight the fair flowers and nip the unfolding buds of promise in the Christian home!

"Death! thou dread looser of the dearest tie,
Was there no aged and no sick one nigh?
No languid wretch who long'd, but long'd in vain,
For thy cold hand to cool his fiery pain?
And was the only victim thou couldst find,
An infant in its mother's arms reclined?"

Thus it is that death often turns from the sickly to the healthy, from the decrepitude of age to the strong man in his prime, from the miserable wretch who longs for the grave to the smiling babe upon its mother's breast, and there in those "azure veins which steal like streams along a field of snow," he pours his putrefying breath, and leaves within that mother's arms nothing but loathsomeness and ruin! It was thus, bereaved parents, that he came within your peaceful home, and threw a cruel mockery over all your visions of delight, over all the joys and hopes and interests of your fireside, personifying their wreck in the cold and ghastly corpse of your child. All that is now left to you is, the memorials around you that once the pride of your heart was there; --

"The nursery shows thy pictured wall,
Thy bat, thy bow,
Thy cloak and bonnet, club and ball,
But where art thou?
A corner holds thine empty chair,
Thy playthings idly scattered there,
But speak to us of our despair!"

How sad and lonely especially is the mother who is called thus to weep the loss of her departed infant. Oh, it is hard for her to give up that loved one whose smile and childish glee were the light and the hope of her heart. As she lays it in the cold, damp earth, and returns to her house of mourning, and there contemplates its empty cradle, and that silent nursery, once gladsome with its mirth, she feels the sinking weight of her desolation. No light, no luxury, no friend, can fill the place of her lost one.

And especially if this lost one be the first-born, -- the first bud of promise and of hope, how doubly painful is the bereavement. It makes our home as dark and desolate as was the hour when Abraham with uplifted knife, was about to send death to the throbbing heart of his beloved Isaac. Nothing can supply the place of a first-born child; and home can never be what it was when the sweet voice of that first-born child was heard. The first green leaf of that household has faded; and though leaves may put forth, and other buds of promise may unfold, and bright faces may light up the home-hearth, and the sunshine of hope may play around the heart; but --

"They never can replace the bud our early fondness nurst, They may be lovely and beloved, but not like thee -- the first!"

Your heart continues lonely and desolate; its strings are broken; its tenderest fibers wrenched; you continue to steal "beneath, the church-yard tree, where the grass grows green and wild," and there weep over the grave of your first maternal love; and like Rachael, refuse to be comforted because he is not. Your grief is natural, and only those who have lost their first-born can fully realize it: --

"Young mother! what can feeble friendship say,
To soothe the anguish of this mournful day?
They, they alone, whose hearts like thine have bled, Know how the living sorrow for the dead;
I've felt it all, -- alas! too well I know
How vain all earthly power to hush thy woe!
God cheer thee, childless mother! 'tis not given
For man to ward the blow that falls from heaven.
I've felt it all -- as thou art feeling now;
Like thee, with stricken heart and aching brow,
I've sat and watched by dying beauty's bed,
And burning tears of hopeless anguish shed;
I've gazed upon the sweet, but pallid face,
And vainly tried some comfort there to trace;
I've listened to the short and struggling breath;
I've seen the cherub eye grow dim in death;
Like thee, I've veiled my head in speechless gloom, And laid my first-born in the silent tomb!"

Now in all these bereavements of the Christian home we have developed the wisdom and goodness of God; and the consideration of this we commend to the bereaved as a great comfort. They are but the execution of God's merciful design concerning the family. Pious parents can, therefore, bless the Lord for these afflictions. It is often well for both you and your children that bereavements come. They come often as the ministers of grace. The tendency of home is to confine its supreme affections within itself, and not yield them unto God. Parents often bestow upon their children all their love, and live for them alone. Then God lays his rod upon them, takes their loved ones to his own arms, to show them the folly of using them as abusing them. If home had no such bereavements, eternity would be lost sight of; God would not be obeyed; souls would be neglected; natural affection would crush the higher incentives and restraints of faith; earthly interests would push from our hearts all spiritual concerns; and our tent-home in this vale of tears would be substituted for our heavenly home. We see, therefore, the benevolent wisdom of God in ordaining bereavements to arrest us from the control of unsanctified natural affection. When we see the flowers of our household withered and strewn around us; when that which we most tenderly loved and clung to, is taken from us in an unexpected hour, we begin to see the futility of living for earthly interests alone; and we turn from the lamented dead to be more faithful to the cherished and dependent living.

Let us, therefore, remember that in all our afflictions God has some merciful design, the execution of which will contribute to the temporal and eternal welfare of our home. He designs either to correct us if we do wrong, or to prevent us from doing wrong, or to test our Christian fidelity, or to instruct us in the deep mysteries and meandering ways of human life, and keep before us the true idea of our homes and lives as a pilgrimage. Nothing, save supernatural agencies, so effectually removes the moral film from our intellectual eye as the hand of bereavement. Death is a great teacher. Sources of pensive reflection and spiritual communion are opened, which none but death could unseal. A proper sense of the spirit-world is developed; life appears in its naked reality; heaven gains new attractions; eternity becomes a holier theme, -- a more cheerful object of thought; the true relation of this to the life to come, is realized; and the presence of the world of the unseen enters more deeply into our moral consciousness.

Though our loved ones are gone, they are still with us in spirit; yea, they are ours still, in the best sense of possession; our relationship with them is not destroyed, but hallowed. Though absent, they still live and love; and they come thronging as ministering spirits to our hearts; they hover near us, and commune with us. Though death may separate us from them, it does not disunite us. Your departed children, though separated from you in body, are still yours, are with you in spirit, and are members of your family. They represent your household in heaven, and are a promise that you will be there also. You are still their parents; you are still one family, -- one in spirit, in faith, in hope, in promise, in Christ. You still dwell together in the fond memories of home, and in the bright anticipation of a coming reunion in heaven. Oh, with this view of death and with this hope of joining love's buried ones again, you can gather those that yet remain, and talk to them of those you put, cold and speechless, in their bed of clay; and while their bodies lie exposed to the winter's storm or to the summer's heat, you can point the living to that cheering promise which spans, as with an areole of glory, the graves of buried love; you can tell them they shall meet their departed kindred in a better home. Oh, clasp this promise to your aching heart; treasure it up as a pearl of great price. Your departed children are not lost to you; and their death to them is great gain. They are not lost, but only sent before. "The Lord, has taken them away." With these views of death before you, and with the moral instructions they afford, you cannot but feel that your children, though absent from you in body, are with you in spirit, -- are still living with you in your household, and are among that spirit-throng which ever press around you, to bear you up lest you dash your foot against a stone. Such were the feelings of the Christian father, as expressed in the following touching lines: --

"I cannot make him dead!
When passing by his bed,
So long watched over with parental care,
My spirit and my eye
Seek it inquiringly,
Before the thought comes that -- he is not there!

"When at the day's calm close
Before we seek repose,
I'm with his mother, offering up our prayer,
Whate'er I may be saying,
I am, in spirit, praying
For our boy's spirit, though -- he is not there!

"Not there? Where, then, is he?
The form I used to see
Was but the raiment that he used to wear.
The grave, that now doth press
Upon that cast-off dress,
Is but his wardrobe locked; -- he is not there!

"He lives! In all the past
He lives; nor, to the last,
Of seeing him again will I despair;
In dreams I see him now,
And on his angel brow,
I see it written, 'Thou shalt see me there!'

"Yes, we all live to God!
Father, thy chastening rod
So help us, thine afflicted ones, to bear,
That in the spirit-land,
Meeting at thy right hand,
'Twill he our heaven to find that -- he is there!"

From this view of the educational principle involved in all our bereavements, we may easily infer that God designs to benefit us by them. There is an actual usefulness in all the bereavements of the Christian home. They are but the discipline of a Father's hand and the ministration of a Father's love. Though His face may wear a dark frown, or be hid behind the tempest-cloud, and His rod may be laid heavily upon you, yet you are not warranted to believe that no sweet is in the bitter cup you drink, that no light shines behind the cloud, or that no good dwells in the bursting storm around you. The present may indeed he dark; but the future will be bright and laden with a Father's blessing. The smile will succeed the frown; the balm will follow the rod. The good seed will be sown after the deep furrows are made. "No chastening for the present seemeth joyous, but grievous, yet it worketh out a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory to them that are exercised thereby." The memory that lingers around the grave of our loved ones, is sad and tearful. The stricken heart heaves with emotions too big for utterance, when we hear no more the sound of their accustomed footsteps upon the threshold of our door. Oh, the cup of bereavement is then bitter, its hour dark, and the pall of desolation hangs heavily around our hearts and homes.

But this is only the dark side of bereavement. The eye which then weeps may fail at the time to behold through its tears, the quickening, softening, subduing and resuscitating power which dwells in the clouds of darkness and of storm; and the heart, wounded and bleeding, too often fails to realize the light and glory which loom up from the grave. But when we look upon the cold, pale face of the dead, in the light of a hopeful resurrection; when their silent forms move in the light of those saving influences which have been exerted upon us, we learn the necessity of bereavement; the mournful cypress will become more beautiful than the palm tree, and in view of its saving power over us, we can say, "it is good for us that we have been afflicted!"

"The path of sorrow, and that path alone,
Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown.
No traveler e'er reached that blest abode,
Who found not thorns and briers in his road.
For He who knew what human hearts would prove,
How slow to learn the dictates of His love;
That, hard by nature and of stubborn will,
A life of ease would make them, harder still;
Called for a cloud to darken all their years,
And said, 'Go, spend them in the vale of tears!'"

Who will not admit that it is an act of real kindness for God to remove little children from this world, and at once take them as His own in heaven? This is surely an act of His mercy, and for their benefit. It arrests them from the perils and tribulations of mature life; it makes their pilgrimage through this vale of tears, of short duration; they escape thereby the bitter cup of actual sin, and the mental and moral agonies of death. It is well with them. How true are the following beautiful verses on the death of children, from the pen of John. Q. Adams: --

"Sure, to the mansions of the blest
When infant innocence ascends,
Some angel brighter than the rest
The spotless spirit's flight attends.
On wings of ecstasy they rise,
Beyond where worlds material roll,
Till some fair sister of the skies,
Receives the unpolluted soul.
There at the Almighty Father's hand,
Nearest the throne of living light,
The choirs of infant seraphs stand,
And dazzling shine, where all are bright!"

Christ became a little child, that little children might receive the crown of their age and be eternally saved. He took them in His arms, blessed them, and said, "of such is the kingdom of heaven." And we are told that "out of the mouths of babes and sucklings He has ordained strength." The sweetest hosannas before His throne, doubtless proceed from cherub-lips, and they glow nearest to the bright vision of the face of unveiled glory.

"Calm on the bosom of thy God,
Young spirits! rest thee now!
Even while with us thy footsteps trod,
His seal was on thy brow."

They stand before the throne in white robes, with palms in their hands, and crowns of glory on their heads, crying-out, "Salvation to our God, which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb!" Tell me, does not this view dilate the parent's heart, and make him thankful that he has a sainted child in heaven? Weep for those you have with you, who live under the shades of a moral death, who have entered upon a thorny pilgrimage, and are exposed to the ravages of sin; oh, weep for them! --

"But never be a tear-drop given
To those that rest in yon blue heaven."

The sainted dead of your home are more blessed than the pilgrim living. Weep not, then, that they are gone. Their early departure was to them great gain. Had they been spared to grow up to manhood, you then might have to take up the lamentation of David, "Would to God I had died for thee!" While they, in the culprit's cell, or on the dying couch of the hopeless impenitent, would respond to you in tones of deepening woe, --

"Would I had died when young!
How many burning tears,
And wasted hopes and severed ties,
Had spared my after years!"

Would you, then, to gratify a parent's heart, awake that little slumberer from its peaceful repose, and recall its happy spirit from its realms of glory? There the light of heaven irradiates it; its visions are unclouded there; and from those battlements of uncreated glory it comes to thee on errands of love and mercy. Would you, now, that this inhabitant of heaven should be degraded to earth again? Would you remove him from those rivers of delight to this dry and thirsty land? Would not this be cruel?

When, therefore, your babe is taken from you, regard it as a kind deed of your heavenly Father, and say, "even so it seemeth good in thy sight:"

"Pour not the voice of woe!
Shed not a burning tear
When spirits from the cold earth go,
Too bright to linger here!
Unsullied let them pass
Into oblivion's tomb --
Like snow-flakes melting in the sea
When ripe with vestal bloom.
Then strew fresh flowers above the grave,
And let the tall grass o'er it wave."

But the death of little children is a great mercy, not only to themselves, but also to the living. Those that remain behind are greatly benefited thereby. It exerts a sanctifying, elevating and alluring influence over them. As they pass in their bright pathway to heaven, they leave a blessing behind. God takes them in goodness to us. The interests of the parents are not different from, or opposed to, those of their offspring. The happiness of the latter is that of the former. If, therefore, their death is their blessing, it must be the parent's blessing also. "If love," says Baxter, "teaches us to mourn with them that mourn, and rejoice with them that rejoice, then can we mourn for those of our children that are possessed of the highest everlasting happiness?"

It is true, their sweet faces, unfurrowed by guilt or shame, we shall never more gaze upon; the sound of their happy lullaby we shall never again hear. They are gone now to the spirit-land. But a parent's care and solicitude are also gone. All alarm for their safety is gone; and you now rejoice in the assurance that they have gone to a higher and happier home; and can joyfully exclaim now with Leigh Richmond, "My child is a saint in glory!" His infant powers, so speedily paralyzed by the ruthless hand of death, are now expanding themselves amidst the untold glories of the heavenly world, and are enlisted now in ministering to his pilgrim kindred on earth.

It is true, your children were a source of great joy to you here. Insensibly did they entwine themselves around your heart, and with all the wild ecstasy of maternal love, you embraced them, as they attached themselves, like the slender vine, to you. They were indeed, the life and light of your home, and the deepest joy of your heart. But if they had lived, might they not also have been a source of the deepest sorrow and misery? Might they not have drawn your souls from God and heaven, causing you to live alone for them, and bringing eventually your gray hairs down with sorrow to the grave?

But you have watched at their dying couch, and seen them die; and in that death you have also seen the departure of all such fears and dangers. They are now transplanted to a more congenial clime, where they will bloom forever in unfading loveliness, and from which they will come on errands of ministering love to your household: --

"They come, on the wings of the morning they come,
Impatient to lead some poor wanderer home;
Some pilgrim to snatch from his stormy abode,
And lay him to rest in the arms of his God!"

One of the greatest blessings which the death of our pious kindred confers upon their bereaved friends is, that they hold a saving communion with them, and are ministering spirits sent to minister salvation and consolation unto them.

"The saints on earth, and all the dead,
But one communion make."

They constitute our guardian angels; they witness our Christian race; they commune with our spirits; they link us to the spirit-world; they impress us with its deep mysteries; they stimulate our religious life, and bear us up lest we dash our feet against the pebble which lies in our pathway to the mansions of the blest. The mother who bends in the deep anguish of her soul, over the little grave in which her infant slumbers, has in heaven a cherub spirit to minister to her. And oh, could the veil which wraps the spirit-world from our view, be now removed, and we permitted to catch a glimpse of the heavenly scene there displayed, we should doubtless behold on the threshold of that better home, an innumerable host witnessing with, intensity of interest, the scenes of human life; and no doubt to you, bereaved friend, the most conspicuous among that celestial throng, would be the sainted form of that dear one whose grave you often adorn with the warm tribute of memory's gushing tears. And oh, could you understand the relation in which that sainted one stands to you, you would doubtless be conscious that over and about you it hovers from day to day as your guardian spirit, watching all the details of your life, soothing the anguish of your troubled heart, and ministering unto you in holy things!

"The spirits of the loved and departed
Are with us; and they tell us of the sky,
A rest for the bereaved and broken-hearted,
A house not made with hands, a home on high!
They have gone from us, and the grave is strong!
Yet in night's silent watches they are near;
Their voices linger round us, as the song
Of the sweet skylark lingers on the ear."

The whole dispensation of grace is like the ladder set up on earth, whose top reached heaven, and upon which Jacob saw the angels ascending; and descending. As the Christian pilgrim in his spiritual progression mounts each round of this ladder, he finds himself in the midst of a spirit-throng ascending and descending on errands of love and mercy to him; yea, the canopy of the sky seems lined with so great a cloud, of witnesses and ministering spirits; and among them we behold our sainted friends bidding us climb on to their lofty abodes; they beckon us to themselves; their voices animate us, as they steal down upon our spirits in solemn and beautiful cadence.

"Hark! heard ye not a sound
Sweeter than wild-bird's note, or minstrel's lay!
I know that music well, for night and day
I hear it echoing round.

"It is the tuneful chime
Of spirit-voices! -- 'tis my infant band
Calling the mourner from this darkened land
To joy's unclouded clime.

"My beautiful, my blest!
I see them there, by the great Spirit's throne;
With winning words, and fond beseeching tone,
They woo me to my rest!"

Weeping mother! that little babe, whose spirit has been borne by angels to heaven, where it now glows in visions of loveliness around God's throne, comes often as a ministering spirit to thee, whispers peace and hope to thy disconsolate heart, and with its tiny hands bears thee up in thy dark and troubled path! And my dear bereaved young friend! that mother, who nursed you on her knee, who taught your infant lips to lisp the name of Jesus, and amid whose prayers you have grown up to maturity, -- that sainted mother over whose grave you have often wept in bitter anguish, hovers over you now with all the passionate fondness of a mother's love, guides and impresses you, attends you in all your walks, takes charge of you in all your steps; soothes you in your sorrows; and when burning with fever on the sick bed, fans you with angel wing and breath, and warms your chilled nerves with an angel's heart!

Now when we regard the departed of our homes in this light, shall we not admit that the death of those who go to heaven is a blessing, not only to them, but to those they leave behind! And especially when we remember that they return to us in spirit to minister to our wants even unto the smallest details of life, that they are our guardian angels, are with, us wherever we go, to warn and deliver us from temptation and clanger, to urge us in the path of duty, to smooth our pillow when thrown upon beds of languishing, and then, when the vital spark has fled, to convey us to the paradise of God, -- oh, when we remember this, we say, shall we not rather bless God that He has afflicted us? Though our hearts may be lonely, yet with this view of the departed ones of our home, we can feel that we are, nevertheless, not alone.

"I am not quite alone. Around me glide
Unnumbered beings of the unseen world; --
And one dear spirit hovering by my side,
Hath o'er my form its snow-white wings unfurled,
It is a token that when death is nigh,
It then will wait to hear my soul on high!"

What afflicted heart will not respond with deep and grateful emotion, to the following beautiful address of a bereaved pilgrim to his sainted loved ones in heaven: --

"Gone! -- have ye all then gone, --
The good, the beautiful, the kind, the dear?
Passed to your glorious rest so swiftly on,
And left me weeping here?

"I gaze on your bright track;
I hear your lessening voices as they go;
Have ye no sign, no solace to fling back
To those who toil below?

"Oh! from that land of love,
Look ye not sometimes on this world of wo?
Think ye not, dear ones, in brighter bowers above,
Of those you left below?

"Surely ye note us here,
Though not as we appear to mortal view,
And can we still, with all our stains, be dear
To spirits pure as you?

"Is it a fair, fond thought,
That you may still our friends and guardians be;
And heaven's high ministry by you be wrought
With objects low as we?

"May we not secretly hope,
That you around our path and bed may dwell?
And shall not all, our blessings brighter drop
From hands we loved so well?

"Shall we not feel you near
In hours of danger, solitude, and pain,
Cheering the darkness, drying off the tear
And turning loss to gain?

"Shall not your gentle voice
Break on temptation's dark and sullen mood,
Subdue our erring will, o'errule our choice,
And win from ill to good?

"Oh, yes! to us, to us,
A portion of your converse still be given!
Struggling affection still would hold us thus,
Nor yield you all to heaven!

"Lead our faint steps to God;
Be with us while the desert here we roam;
Teach us to tread the path which you have trod,
To find with you our home!"

What a comfort does this view of the pious dead afford the pious living. We commend it now to you. What consolation to the bereaved parents is the assurance that all infants are saved! This gives them "beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." Your infant has gone to heaven; for "of such is the kingdom of heaven." Zuinlius was perhaps the first who proclaimed salvation for all who died in infancy. He based this doctrine, so comforting to the afflicted parent, upon the atonement of Christ for all; and he believed that Christ made provision for infants in this general atonement or redemption of human nature. This is the general belief now. Calvin declared that "God adopts infants and washes them in the blood of his son," and that "they are regarded by Christ as among His flock." Dr. Junkin says, "It is not inconsistent with any doctrine of the bible, that the souls of deceased infants go to heaven." Newton says, "I hope you are both well reconciled to the death of your child. Indeed, I cannot be sorry for the death of infants. How many storms do they escape! Nor can I doubt, in my private judgment, that they are included in the election of grace." This is the opinion, too, of all evangelical branches of the Christian church. If so, you have here a source of great consolation.

"Though it he hard to bid thy heart divide,
And lay the gem of all thy love aside --
Faith tells thee, and it tells thee not in vain,
That thou shalt meet thy infant yet again."

What, oh, what, if you had not the assurance of the salvation of all infants? What if your faith would tell you that all children who die before they can exercise faith would he lost or annihilated! Then indeed you might well refuse to be comforted because they are not. But your child is not lost, -- but only removed to a better home: --

"A treasure but removed,
A bright bird parted for a clearer day --
Yours still in heaven!"

And yours to meet there! The hope of a glorious reunion with, departed friends in heaven, lifts the afflicted Christian into regions of happiness never before enjoyed. And as he contemplates their better state, and, muses over the trials and sorrows of his pilgrim land, he longs to pass over the stream which divides that happy home from this. He is grateful to God that heaven has thus become doubly attractive by his bereavement, and that he can look forward with fond anticipation, to the time when he shall there become reunited with those who have gone before.

"Oh! I could weep
With very gratitude that thou art saved --
Thy soul forever saved. What though my heart
Should bleed at every pore -- still thou art blessed. There is an hour, my precious innocent,
When we shall meet again! Oh! may we meet
To separate no more. Yes! I can smile,
And sing with gratitude, and weep with joy,
Even while my heart is breaking!"

We infer from the whole subject, that we should not murmur against God when afflicted, however great our bereavements may he. This does not, of course, forbid godly sorrow and tears. It is not inconsistent to weep; neither does sorrow for the dead, as such, imply a murmuring spirit. Christ himself invited to tears when he wept over the grave of his friend Lazarus. It is meet that we pay our tribute to departed kindred, in falling tears. These are not selfish; neither is the sorrow they express, a sin, nor an evidence of filial distrust, or of reluctant submission to the will of God. The unfeeling stoic may regard it such; but he outrages the generous impulses of humanity. Undefiled religion does not aim to cancel natural affection. Our piety, if genuine, will not make us guilty of crimes against nature, and prompt us to bend with apathy over the grave of buried, love. The mother of Jesus wept her pungent woes beneath the Cross; and the Marys dropt the tear of sorrowing love and memory at the mouth of his sepulchre. And shall we refuse the tribute of sorrow to the memory of those dear ones who sleep beneath the sod? To do so would, but unchristianize the deep grief which bereavement awakens, and which true piety sanctifies; it would unhumanize the very constitution of home itself. To be Christians, must the unnumbered memories of life be all without a tear? When we walk in the family grave-yard, and think of the loved who slumber there; when we open the family bible, and read, there the names of those who have gone before us, say, shall this awaken no slumbering grief, invite no warm, gushing tears, and not bear us back to scenes of tenderness and love?

Ah, no! The gospel encourages godly sorrow over the dead. We are permitted to sorrow, only not as those who have no hope, as not being cast down, and as not being disquieted within us. Such godly sorrow is refreshing, and the tears it sheds are a balm to the wounded spirit. They refine our sentiments, and beget longings after a better country. The memory of bereaved affection is grief. In traversing the past, our thoughts glide along a procession of dear events arrested by the tomb; and we become sad and weep. But this is not inconsistent with a confiding faith in God, nor with a meek: resignation to His afflicting providence. Faith was not designed to overpower a visible privation. When death enters our home we should feel pungently, though we have the faith of an angel, and weep before the smile of God. The evidences of faith, and the brilliant idealities of hope will hush the voice of murmur, and incite us to kiss the rod that is laid upon us.

It is, therefore, a Christian privilege to weep over the death of our departed kindred, yea, who can stifle the anguish of the heart when the tender flowers of home sink into the waxen form of death? when the flickering flame of infant life burns lower and weaker; when the death-glazed eye is closed, and the little bosom heaves no more, and that lovely form becomes cold as the grave, what parental heart can then remain unmoved, and what eye can then forbid a tear? Not even the assurance of infant salvation and the hope of reunion in heaven, can prevent sorrow for the dead.

"To think his child is blest above,
To pray their parting grief,
These, these may soothe, but death alone,
Can heal a father's grief."

But this grief should never amount to dissatisfaction with God. Though it is right to weep, it is wrong to murmur. Many parents murmuringly mourn the loss of their children, and in wrestling with God to spare them, betray the want of a true submission to His will. It is sinful to murmur at the decrees of God. We have seen that they are wise, and all designed for our good. Methinks if your dying babe could respond to your murmuring sighs and tears around its crib, it would thus reprove you: --

"Nay, mother, fix not thus on me
That streaming eye,
And clasp not thus my freezing hand;
For I must die.
To Him ye gave the opening bud,
The early bloom;
Then grieve not that the ripened fruit
He gathers home."

But we should not only refrain from murmuring, but meekly submit to the providential afflictions of our home. We should remember that all the adversities of life are from the Lord, and that when death invades our household, and crushes the fond hopes of our hearts, it is for some wise and good purpose. Though we may not understand it here, where we look through a glass darkly; but eternity will reveal it. Though the dying of a child is like tearing a limb from us; but remember God demands it. Surrender it to Him, therefore, with Christian resignation. He does not demand it without a cause. It may offend thee, though it be a right hand or a right eye. Let the branch be cut off. At the resurrection you shall see it again. Give it up willingly; for it is the Lord's will that you should. Have the meek submission, to exclaim, "Not my will, but Thine be done!" Whatever may be your pleas to the contrary, they are all selfish; when, you come to look at your bereavement, with the candid, discerning eye of faith, you cannot murmur; but will bend under the stroke with silent tears and with grateful submission. Faith in God, the hope of reunion in heaven, and true Christian love for the object taken from us, will effectually quell every uprising of complaint in our hearts: --

"My stricken heart to Jesus yields
Love's deep devotion now,
Adores and blesses -- while it bleeds --
His hand that strikes the blow.
Then fare thee well -- a little while
Life's troubled dream is past;
And I shall meet with thee, my child,
In life -- in bliss, at last!"

chapter xxv the promises of
Top of Page
Top of Page