How can we find benefit in times of affliction, frailty and illness? For one, the Lord can use such times to “teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” (Ps. 90:12). There is the means—affliction, but note also the purpose—to apply our hearts unto wisdom, and also the method—teaching us to number our days. When we are well and prospering, it is so easy to rely upon our own efforts and to forget God. But He would have us to redeem the time, for the days are evil. (Eph. 5:16). Our Lord would have us to remember Him daily—constantly—to live our lives resting upon Him for all that we are and have.
The following material comes from THE NEW YORK OBSERVER, a 19th-century Presbyterian newspaper. The PCA Historical Center has a modest collection of these newspapers, and these two articles recently caught my eye.
“Words of a Childless Widow on the Benefit of Affliction.”
[excerpted from The New York Observer, 18.38 (19 September 1840), p. 1, columns 4-5.]
My husband died, and then disease seized on my children, and they were taken one by one. In the course of a few years, I had lain those in whom my heart was bound up, in the grave. Oh! They were many, many bitter tears that I shed. The world was dark. The very voice of consolation was a pain. I could sit by the side of my friend, but could not hear him speak of my departed ones. My affliction was too deep to be shared. It seemed as if God himself had deserted me. I was alone. The places at the table and the fireside remained—but they who filled them were gone. Oh the loneliness, as it had been a tome, of my chamber. How blessed was sleep! For then the dead lived again. They were all around me. My youngest child and last, sat on my knee—she leaped up in my arms, she uttered my name with infant joyousness; and that sweet tone was as if an angel had spoken to my sad soul. But the dream vanished, and the dreary morning broke, and I waked and prayed—and I sought forgiveness even while I uttered it for my unholy prayer—prayed that God would let me lie down in the grave side by side with my children and husband.
But better thoughts came. In my grief I remembered that though my loved ones were separated from me, the same Father—the same Infinite Love, watched over them as when they were by my fireside. We were divided, but only for a season. And by degrees my grief grew calmer. But since then, my thoughts have been more in that world, where they have gone, than in this. I do not remember less, but I look forward and upward more. I learned the worth of prayer and reliance. Would that I could express to every mourner how the sting is taken away from the grief of one, who with a true and full heart puts her trust in God. I can never again go into the gay world. The pleasures of this world are no longer pleasures to me. But I have trust and hope and confidence. I know that my Redeemer liveth. I know that God ever watches over his children. And in my desolation, this faith of the heart has long enabled me to feel a different kind of pleasure indeed, but a far deeper, though more sober joy, than the pleasures of this world ever gave me even when youth, and health, and friends all conspired to give them their keenest relish.
‘You have learned in your own heart,’ I said, ‘that all trials are not evils.’
It was with eyes up-turned to heaven, and gushing over with tears, not tears of sorrow, but gratitude, and with a radiant countenance, that she answered, in a tone so mild, so rapt, as if her heart were speaking to her God,—‘It has been good for me that I have been afflicted.’
And from that same issue of The New Yorker Observer, there is this under the title of:—
“The Test of Death.”
Death should ever be to us the memento, and the test of the true value, and the great ends of life. So prone are we to be engrossed with the world, to yield ourselves to its allurements and temptations, that we are often in danger of forgetting our mortality and the judgment, and of living unworthily of ourselves and below the great ends of our being. It is true, indeed, that serious reflection now and then comes, in pensive moments, to make us ponder the future; to wake us, as with an angel touch, to a full sense of all that we are, and of all to which God is calling us. And in such moments, how often do we resolve that we will live more for our immortality. But soon the current of earth again sweeps over us; soon we are walking over the very wreck of our solemn resolutions, planning as eagerly, grasping as largely as though we were to live here forever! and we need something, some ever-living monument, like the flaming sword of Eden to our first parents, to warn us away from our danger, to impress the lesson that here we are to live but a little while. And this DEATH is ever doing,—coming upon us suddenly, like the thunder-crash in the clear sky, or in the silent, steady progress of his ever destroying work. We are just on the point of yielding to temptation; and death echoes to our ears that he is bearing us tot he judgment, where, if we yield, a fearful account may be ours. We are strongly tempted to a course, to enter upon which would practically be saying that pleasure is our chief good; and death whispers to us, that he will soon touch with his blighting finger, every pleasure whose sources are below the skies. We are planning as earnestly, grasping as eagerly, as though the world might yet be ours; and, as we look up, death is standing by our side, telling of his claim from God upon us, and that in a little while he will crumble to the dust our every plan that takes not hold on heaven. We are neglecting growth in grace; and death, in solemn accents, warns us that we shall soon be where nothing will seem worthy of a thought compared with progress in holiness. We are living for the objects of time and sense—living in continued impenitence; and death, from the opening graves of those cut down by our side, thunders to us, that we too soon must follow, and that if we seek not God’s favor we are lost; that if we repent not, we perish!
Thus does death, ever beside us, like our own shadow, warn us to live in consistency with our probation, and for the great ends of our existence. Like the truest friend—not the one who merely amuses us in an idle hour, but who sternly rebukes our errors, and seeks our highest improvement, and whispers to us of heavenly purposes and of high and holy efforts,—like such a friend, death is ever calling us away from folly and sin, to all that is holy, to all that will fit us for heaven. Standing beside us, not with sombre, but ever with serious aspect, pointing us with deep solemnity to the grave—whither he will so soon bear us—reminding us that there is the test of life, surely it is wise for us to learn the lesson he is ever striving to impress. As the banner of the dying Saladin was borne through his armies with the monition, “This is all that remains of Saladin the great,” so should death impress upon our hearts, how little of earth will soon be left to us! As the herald was commanded by Philip daily to cry before him, “Remember, Philip, that thou art mortal,” so should death ever remind us of our mortality, and lead us to live for a brighter and a better state! Death—DEATH, this is the TEST of LIFE!
T.E., September, 1840.