/ Barry York

Reflections with Rutherford on the Loss of Children

One of the most helpful balms for the pain-stricken hearts of mothers who have lost children, whether through miscarriage, childhood illness, or tragedy, is to reflect on the experience and lessons the Lord has taught others in similar circumstances. In the book Letters of Samuel Rutherford, there are two letters he writes to a particular grieving mother that contain words rich in faith, wisdom, and comfort.

These letters were written by Rutherford in 1637 in Aberdeen, during his exile period from his pastoral charge in Anworth. They are addressed to Lady Gaitgirth, who was the wife of a prominent sheriff as well as a supporter and friend to Rutherford. She birthed five sons and five daughters but, as was common at the time, had lost several of her children. You can read these relatively short letters in their entirety here and here. What follows are five sources of the comfort and strength that Rutherford offered to this distressed woman.

Remember that the love of Christ never ceases, even when your own love is inconstant.

MISTRESS, Grace, mercy, and peace be to you. I long to know how matters stand betwixt Christ and your soul. Time cannot change Him in His love. Ye yourself may ebb and flow, rise and fall, wax and wane; but your Lord is this day as He was yesterday. And it is your comfort that your salvation is not rolled upon wheels of your own making, neither have ye to do with a Christ at your own shaping. God has singled out a Mediator, strong and mighty: if ye and your burdens were as heavy as ten hills or hells, He is able to bear you, and to save you to the uttermost.

Entrust your lost children to the One to whom they truly belong, knowing they are safely in His presence.

Cast the burden of your sweet babes upon Christ, and lighten your heart, by laying your all upon Him. He will be their God.
...if your Lord take any of them home to His house before the storm come on, take it well. The owner of the orchard may take down two or three apples off his own trees before midsummer and ere (before) they get the harvest sun, and it would not be seemly that his servant, the gardener, should chide him for it. Let our Lord pluck His own fruit at any season He pleaseth.

You would not mature and be able to receive fuller manifestations of Christ's love without seasons of difficulty and preparation now.

...it is good for you that He hideth Himself sometimes. It is not niceness, dryness, nor coldness of love, that causeth Christ to withdraw, and slip in under a curtain and a veil, that ye cannot see Him; but He knoweth that ye could not bear with upsails, a fair gale, a full moon, and a high spring-tide of His felt love, and always a fair summer-day and a summer-sun of a felt and possessed and embracing Lord Jesus. His kisses and His visits to His dearest ones are thin-sown. He could not let out His rivers of love upon His own, but these rivers would be in hazard of loosening a young plant at the root; and He knoweth this of you. Ye should, therefore, frist (trust as a sure pledge) Christ's kindness, as to its sensible and full manifestations, till ye and He be above sun and moon. That is the country where ye will be enlarged for that love which ye do not now contain.

In your grief, guard against the idolatry of giving your children the place in your heart that only Christ is to have.

Take no heavier lift of your children then your Lord alloweth, give them room beside your heart, but not in the yolk of your heart, where Christ should be; for then they are your idols, not your bairns (children).

Realize you are on a relatively short journey where cross-bearing is to be expected; but you will soon be restored to your children and be with Christ eternally.

I exhort you not to lose breath nor to faint in your journey. The way is not so long to your home as it was, it will wear to one step or an inch at length, and ye shall come ere long to be within your arm-length of the glorious crown. Your Lord Jesus did sweat and pant ere He got up that mount; he was at "Father save Me!" with it. It was He who said, "I am poured out like water; all my bones are out of joint (Ps. 22: 14).  Christ was as if they had broken Him upon the wheel: "My heart is like wax, it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd" (Ps. 22:14-15).
They (your children) are not lost to you, they are laid up so well as that they are coffered (stored) in heaven where our Lord's best jewels lie. They are all free goods that are there, death can have no law to arrest any thing that is within the walls of the new Jerusalem.
I am sure ye love the way the better that His holy feet trod it before you. Crosses have a smell of a crossed and pained Christ. I believe your Lord will not leave you to die your lone in the way. I know ye have sad hours when the comforter is hid under a veil and when ye inquire for him, and find but a toom (empty) nest. This, I grant, is but a cold "good-day" when the seeker misseth him whom the soul loveth; but even his unkindness is kind, his absence lovely, his mask a sweet sight, till God send Christ Himself, in His own sweet presence. Make His sweet comforts your own, and be not strange and shame fast with Christ. Homely dealing is best for Him, it is His liking. When your winter storms are over, the summer of your Lord shall come.

Finally, lest one dismiss these encouragements, thinking that Rutherford wrote as a man insensitive to the needs of a woman and as a pious-sounding preacher, consider his own experience. He penned these words as one who had known the death of his first young wife (he became so ill after her death he could not preach for three months) as well as their two infant daughters. He would also live to see the death of six of his seven children by his second wife. So he wrote not only as a loving minister desiring to minister Christ to a mourning mother, but as a grieving husband and father himself who knew tragedy firsthand.

With faith in the Christ revealed in Scripture, he trusted that earthly sorrows would make heavenly joys of restoration all the sweeter. As he said to Lady Gaitgirth with a most direct analogy:

Your sadness is with child of joy. He (Christ) will do you good in the latter end.
Barry York

Barry York

Sinner by Nature - Saved by Grace. Husband of Miriam - Grateful for Privilege. Father of Six - Blessed by God. President of RPTS - Serve with Thankfulness. Author - Hitting the Marks.

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