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THE PROPER GROUND OF SUBMISSION.
FUNERAL OF MRS. BATHSHEBA SANFORD, WIFE OF REV. DAVID SANFORD, OF
MEDWAY: NOVEMBER 17, 1800.
I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it. - Psalm xxxix. 9.
We have reason to believe that David composed this psalm under the impression of some striking instance of mortality. He pours out his heart before God in this plaintive language: “ I was dumb with silence; I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred. My heart was hot within me; while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue, Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.” In this strain he proceeds, until he says in the text, “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.” This last expression more naturally applies to soine bereavement, than to any other affliction; and more properly describes the feelings of a pious mourner, than those of
It seems the Psalmist had lately suffered the loss of some near relative, or very dear and intimate friend. This affliction at first threw his mind into a painful conflict; but while he was musing in solitude, he had a clear and realizing sense that his bereavement came from God, which bowed his heart in humble submission to the divine will. The spirit and language of the text, therefore, invite our attention to this plain truth :
That a consideration of bereavements coming from God, is the proper ground of true submission. To illustrate this sentiment, it is necessary to show,
I. That bereavements come from God: and,
II. That this consideration is the proper ground of true submission.
I. Let us consider that bereavements come from God.
Death, like every other event, is entirely under the dominion of God, who is deeply concerned in every instance of mortality. This good men have always been ready to acknowledge. David says, “ I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.” Job expresses the same sentiment with equal plainness and sincerity. “ The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away." This leads me to observe,
1. That the agency of God is concerned in every instance of bereavement. As it belongs to God to give and to preserve life, so it equally belongs to him to take it away. He constantly carries the life and death of every individual in his sovereign hand. Though men are surrounded with a multiplicity of natural causes which have a tendency to destroy life, yet these cannot destroy it without the agency of God. For he can preserve the life of whom he pleases, in the midst of the pestilence that walketh in darkness, and the destruction that wasteth at noon-day. And though men are surrounded with a multiplicity of natural causes which have a tendency to preserve life, yet these cannot preserve it without the agency of God. For behold, he taketh away, and who can hinder him? Whether death comes by disease, or by accident, or by old age, it always comes through the agency of him in whose hand our breath is. Hence every one who is bereaved of a friend or relative has reason to believe and say, The Lord hath done it.
2. Every bereavement comes from the counsel as well as from the hand of God. He worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. He determined all his own conduct before the foundation of the world. He does nothing in time, but what he had from eternity absolutely resolved to do. His agency, in every instance, flows from his original and immutable purpose. It is evident, therefore, that every bereavement, with all its circumstances, comes exactly according to a divine appointment. In particular,
The time of a bereavement is appointed. There is an appointed time to every man upon earth. God has determined the number of his months, and of his days, and fixed the bounds of his life that he cannot pass. In appointing the day of death, God had respect not only to those who are taken away, but also to those who are left to bemoan their loss. As there is a good and an evil time to die, so there is a good and an evil time to be bereaved. It is good for the righteous to be
taken away from the evil to come; and it is evil to the wicked to be taken away in their wickedness. It is good to be bereaved, when the body and mind are able to endure affliction; and it is evil to be bereaved, when the body and mind are enfeebled, by age or sickness. This was foreknown to God, and accordingly he appointed the particular time of every bereavement, with a particular design, either to diminish, or to increase the burden of the afflicted.
The connection as well as time of bereavements is appointed. This is an interesting circumstance to the bereaved. When bereavements come singly, and at a considerable distance from each other, they are much more easily borne; but when they come in a train and in thick succession, like the waves of the sea, billow after billow, they sink the mourner in the depths of sorrow. It was this painful connection which gave tenfold weight to the afflictions of Job. In one day, loss came upon loss, and bereavement upon bereavement, until he was left entirely desolate and forlorn. All bereavements come in just such a connection as God appointed, in order to make the bereaved more or less sensible of the weight of his correcting hand.
It is farther to be observed, that the nature, as well as the time and connection of bereavements, is appointed. There is a great and sensible difference in the nature of bereavements. One is much more severe than another. Mankind are bound together by a thousand different ties. Some are more and some are less intimately connected. But the more nearly and tenderly any persons are united by the ties of nature or friendship, the more distressing is a final separation by death. Hence it is more grievous to lose a husband or a wife, than to lose a son or a daughter; and to lose an intimate friend, than a remote relation. To some persons, God has appointed only a few and light afflictions. And of course, he never calls them to bury any near relatives, nor dear and intimate friends. But to others he has appointed many and severe bereavements. And accordingly he dissolves one tender tie after another, until he has made them bleed in every vein. He never strikes lighter, nor heavier, than he meant to strike. His hand is always guided by his counsel. When he sends bereavements, he invariably sends them in weight and in measure, according to his sovereign and eternal appointment. Besides,
3. Bereavements come not only from the hand and counsel, but even from the heart, of God. He does nothing but what he designs, and he designs nothing but what is agreeable to his heart. His perfect benevolence approves of every bereavement with which he visits either his friends, or his enemies. Though he loves his friends with a strong and peculiar affection, yet this very affection often leads him to wound their hearts, by calling them to part with their dearest connections. Though he felt a tender regard for Abraham his friend, yet he called him to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. Though Job was his peculiar favorite, yet no man was ever visited with more severe and distressing bereavements. The executive officer frequently inflicts a punishment which his heart abhors. The parent often grieves the heart of a child, without the least apprehension of doing it. And mankind are continually giving one another pain and distress, of which they are totally ignorant. But God always knows how the bereaved will feel under his bereaving hand, and his heart always approves of every bereavement, in all its peculiar and painful circumstances. Hence bereavements, in all respects, come from God. For they come through his agency, according to his appointinent, and agreeably to his heart. I proceed to show,
II. That this consideration is the proper ground of true submission.
David knew no other just ground of submission, in the instance to which he refers in the text. “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it." At another time, when he expected to be deprived of his friends, of his throne, and of every earthly enjoyment, he felt and expressed the same submission, in the view of the absolute and incomprehensible sovereignty of God. “Behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him.” When Samuel told Eli that God was about to visit him with singular and severe bereavements, he said, " It is the Lord ; let him do what seemeth him good." When the prophet informed Hezekiah of the terrible calamities which God had determined to bring upon his family and kingdom, he submissively replied, “ Good is the word of the Lord.” Job said, while feeling and fearing the correcting hand of God, “ Though he slay me yet will I trust in him.” When the servant of the prophet asked the Shunammite, who had lost her darling son, " Is it well with thee? Is it well with thy husband? Is it well with the child ? She answered, It is well.” All these instances of true submission were entirely founded on the consideration that afflictions and bereavements come from God. And this consideration always affords a proper and sufficient ground of entire submission, under the bereaving strokes of divine providence.
For, in the first place, if bereavements come from God, then they are certainly just. Though they are not joyous, but extremely grievous, yet they never bring more pain and anguish of heart to the bereaved, than they have really deserved. All men have sinned and come short of the glory of God, for which they deserve to be severely chastised. And one way which God takes to chastise them for their offences, is to visit them with bereavements. These are sometimes light, and sometimes heavy; but they are never heavier than the bereaved have merited from the hand of their offended sovereign. Though divine judgments are often involved in clouds and darkness, yet they are always marked with justice. This is an important truth, which good men in all ages have been ready to discover and acknowledge. After God had severely corrected his peculiar people, Ezra says, “ Our God has punished us less than our iniquities deserved.” David, speaking upon the subject of divine chastisement says, “ The Lord will not always chide; neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” Such a sense of the justice of divine corrections affords a solid foundation for silence and submission.
Secondly, if bereavements come from God, then they are wise as well as just. God never corrects his friends, nor his enemies, in this world, merely to display his justice.
The present life is a state of trial, not of retribution. God chastises our guilty race only when his chastisements will answer some wise and important purpose. His unerring wisdom is concerned in fixing the proper time, the peculiar nature, and the precise weight of every affliction. He knows the state and circumstances of the whole family of mankind, and it is only, " if need be," that he visits any individual with any pain, calamity or bereavement. His most afflictive dispensations, therefore, flow from infinite wisdom. And this consideration forbids every murmur and complaint, and calls for the cordial and unreserved submission of mourners.
Thirdly, if bereavements come from God, then they are not only wise and just, but perfectly kind and benevolent. They flow from the fountain of goodness. There is none good but one, that is God. His pure and impartial benevolence extends to all his creatures. He uniformly seeks the highest interest of the universe, in the whole course of his providence. Though he sometimes sends evil, it is only for the sake of some greater good. And though he does not always seek the personal benefit of the afflicted and bereaved, yet he always seeks a good superior to their private and personal sufferings. But when he bereaves his friends, who stand in a peculiar relation to himself, then he corrects with peculiar and paternal tenderness. David says, “ Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." And the apostle says, “ Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom