David Murray

Professor, Pastor, Author

Words of Comfort for Bereaved Parents

Upon the sudden death of his little five-year-old girl, Sophia, William Logan received numerous letters of sympathy from friends that he had met as a Town and Country Missionary in the UK in the 1800′s.

After carefully reading each one and enjoying the soothing words, he carefully set them aside. As the pile grew, however, he realized that there were many similarly bereaved parents that could benefit from such letters but were not likely to receive anything like the quantity or quality.

He extracted a few passages and had them published anonymously in a public journal and then in a four-page tract. When these extracts had such a beneficial effect, Logan began to collect similar literature and eventually published a 400-page book entitled Words of Comfort for Parents Bereaved of Little Childrenincluding extracts from Hugh Miller, Ebenezer Erskine, Thomas Guthrie, etc. Many pastors welcomed the brief letters and extracts as much better suited to mourners than a long and continuous treatment.

As John Ker’s Introduction explains, “The origin of the book is noteworthy as an instance of the manner in which God often makes a personal sorrow the means of benefit, not merely to the sufferer but to others. It came from the heart of one who had found consolation for his heart in sympathy, and who thought of guiding fellow mourners to the same comforts with which he himself had been comforted of God.”

You can access the full text of Words of Comfort on Google books, but here are some noteworthy extracts.

Sustaining then delivering
[His manner is to] show His power in sustaining before He shows it in delivering. This is the order of the old promise, “I will be with thee, in trouble I will deliver thee.” It is the rule of the furnace to walk with His friends in it before He brings them forth; and it is His course with His disciples in the storm: He did not calm the tempest when He was outside the ship, but came into it to tranquillize their hearts, and then He rebuked the waves and brought them to their desired haven (John Ker, xxiv)

Two ways of relieving pain
1. The one is to send our thoughts within the veil to dwell upon  the exceeding joy of that world into which our Christian friends have entered; its freedom from care and sorrow and sin, its nearness to the open face of Christ, and its fellowship with the blessed God. As our souls are elevated by this companionship, we become more unselfish, and are glad for our friends’ sakes that they are there.

2. The other is to be striving for ourselves to live closer to Christ, as the Lord both of the living and the dead. Every step nearer Him, every new attainment in His knowledge and grace, is a step nearer to our departed friends – a feather in the wing that bears us to them.

We can go to the other world and find our Christian friends with Him, and we can bring Him to this world and surround ourselves with the thoughts and hopes of them in our daily walk (John Ker, xxvi).

Less merciful? Never!
We shall never believe that heaven has made him less merciful than when he took the children in his arms and blessed them (xxix).

A safely folded lamb
It is well with Sophia! She has gone to glory; and is now a safely folded lamb. The good Shepherd has taken her to Himself. You will greatly miss her, but your treasure is in heaven; and God has counted you worthy to have treasure there. You will find not the lost, but the living and redeemed one again: she is in good keeping.

Yes, your dear child is better occupied now than ever she could have been here. You closed her eyes upon all this world’s miseries and deep heart-sorrows; and she has already acquired more knowledge than she could have done in this world, though she had lived to close your eyes in death. She is crowned – she is folded – safely gathered and housed; and could you hear her speak, she would say to mother and yourself, “Weep not!” and that voice would have all the sweetness of an angel’s, and all the tenderness of your own Sophia, now glorified, redeemed, happy – infinitely happy. In taking your dear child, God has honoured you – blessed her beyond what we can express – glorified Himself – and added another gem to the Saviour’s crown, another lamb to His flock in glory, another lily to His paradise above, another happy spirit to the redeemed throng – and in doing so He has been but fulfilling His own promise: “With gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought: they shall enter into the King’s palace” (A. W., Glasgow, 47-48).

Wide awake
She is not lost, but gone before. The child is not dead, but sleepeth: or, rather, is wide awake to the blessed reality of glory, honour, and immortality. She is now rejoicing in the smile of Him who said to you, as you clung to the departing object of your affections, as truly as He said to the disciples of old: “Suffer the little one to come unto me.” It is His prerogative – and oh, what a comfort to the Christian parent to realize this clearly! – to “gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom.” He has use for them in heaven. If aged saints there are stars in His diadem, young spirits, gathered thither in the bud, by virtue of His atoning merits, cluster like a garland of beauty around Him. We speak of getting our children settled in life; but how poor at the best is the meaning of this phrase compared with the plenitude of glorious significance it has in reference to the present circumstances of our beloved children, now settled in life in the loftiest sense – exempted henceforth from all evil of every kind, and of all liability thereto, and confirmed in holiness and in happiness throughout eternal ages! It only remains for you to say with David, “We shall go to her, but she shall not return to us” and by faith, patience, resignation, and prayer for fresh supplies of that Spirit whose name is “the Comforter” to bow to “the mighty hand of God, and He will exalt you in due time” (J. G., Glasgow, 48).

Meeting on the golden streets
I also have two daughters in heaven. Both died only four months old! They are now pure and perfect – and blessed spirits before the throne. It is very likely they have met your child upon the golden streets of the celestial city (A.F., Finsbury Chapel, London, 52).

Loaned
She was but a loan – her work was finished. You are not called to sorrow as those who have no hope. Her death has made a deep impression on my own mind. It is only four months since my daughter Mary died – Sophia’s nurse. Their hearts were warmly united together: they were “lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in death they were not (long) divided” (J. R., Dumfriesshire, 52).

Heaven beautified
If the child’s absence makes your home look more desolate than it used to be, heaven has been rendered more than correspondingly rich and attractive. And what untold influence is brought to bear upon you to seek a better country, when to the voice of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, there is added that of your completely holy and happy child, saying, “Be ye followers of them who, through faith and patience, now inherit the promises!” ­(W. W., Langholm, Dumfriesshire, 53).

Powerful fullness
I never saw such a fulness, nor felt such a power in the following text, as when called to part with a lovely daughter of five years of age, viz. “All things work together for good to them that love God” (W. R., Bury, Lancashire, 54).

Tied to the world of spirits
I trust that you will find the consolations that are in Christ Jesus abounding to you, and that you will learn to say, “It is well.” You have one tie more to the world of spirits, and one tie less to the world of bodies (J. M., Glasgow, 42).

Absent from the body
The widowed mother had the little body bestrewed with beautiful flowers, and, being of intense sensibility, could not reconcile her feelings to part with the remains, until I brought, as vividly as I could before her mind, that it was not her son whom we were about to bury. Her son was ABSENT from the body and PRESENT with the Lord. It was but the dust which we were about to commit reverently and lovingly to the kindred dust. She grasped afresh the glorious reality, and was stayed! (G.G., Dundee, 54).

Scythe and dew
This week last year, my heart was first called to bleed under a stroke similar to your own. It is when the land is most weary, that “the shadow of the great Rock” is broadest, coolest, sweetest! And it is where the scythe of death has been, that the dews of the Comforter come most copiously down. With so many ties less to earth, and so many treasures more in heaven, let us live devoted to Him who died devoted for us! (J. R., Newington, Edinburgh, 55).

They love us still
Forget not that heaven is not a place where hearts grow cold. The departed ones love us still. They have lost nothing but the sorrows and infirmities which excited our compassion whilst they were with us. They form part of the “great cloud of witnesses.” Jesus is the connecting link between them and us (J. D. B., Bradford, 44).

Consummated happiness
Their education is completed: they know as they are known. Their holiness is perfected: they are holy as God is holy. Their happiness is consummate (John Macfarlane, London, 96).

Busy angels
How shall the mother recognize her son, who departed from her an emaciated infant, in yonder angelic form in the vigour and brilliancy of resurrection manhood. ­ And how shall the father, who wept bitter tears in secret over his daughter’s decrepitude, distinguish her in yonder seraph of celestial grace ­ What mean you, friends? ­ You surely cannot wish to meet your children in that plight of wretchedness in which you bade them farewell, so that, unassisted, you could of yourselves recognize them. The Lord will provide: but methinks it will, probably, be a busy day for those good angels who ministered to us on earth, finding us out for one another, and introducing us. Remembering how they had seen us grieve for one another, how sympathetically they will enjoy the scene, as we stand amazed for a while at one another’s glory before we embrace!

Nor will it be with little excitement that they hasten to meet you, their brothers and sisters, with whom they may associate and worship, as being more of their own nature than any others to be found in all the kingdom (Wm. Anderson, Glasgow, 100).

Flower-planting gravedigger (with some translation)
Mr Gray the Parish minister came across the gravedigger, John Brown, smoothing and trimming the lowly bed of a child which had been buried a few days before, he asked him why he was so particular in dressing and keeping the graves of the children. John paused for a moment at his work, and looking up, not at the minister, but at the sky, said, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

“And on this account you tend and adorn them with so much care,” remarked the minister, who was greatly struck with the reply.

“Surely, sir,” answered John, “I canna make ower braw and fine [I can't make too beautiful] the bed-coverin’ o’ a little innocent sleeper that is waitin’ there till it is God’s time to wauken it [waken it] and cover it with the white robe, and waft it away to glory. When sic [such] grandeur is awaitin’ it yonder, it’s fit it should be decked oot [out] here. I think the Saviour that counts its dust sae precious will like to see the white clover sheet spread abunde’t [about it]; dae ye no think sae, sir?”

But why not thus cover larger graves?” asked the minister, hardly able to suppress his emotion. “The ‘dust of all His saints is precious in the Saviour’s sight.”

“Very true, sir,” responded John, with great solemnity “but I canna be sure wha are his saints wha are noo [who are his saints and who are not]. I hope there are mony [many] o’ them lyin’ in this kirkyard; but it wad be great presumption in me to mark them oot [out]. There are some that I’m gey sure aboot [very sure about], and I keep their graves as nate and snod [neat and tidy] as I can, and plant a bit floure [flower] here and there as a sign o’ my hope; but I daurna gie [dare not give] them the white sheet. It’s clean different, tho’, wi’ the bairns [infants]. We hae His ain [have his own] word for their up-going, and sae I canna mak’ an error there” (108-109).

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About David Murray

David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He blogs at HeadHeartHand . and you can follow him on Twitter @DavidPMurray .

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