From Grief to Glory – A Review by Sarah Pawlak
I sat down to read From Grief to Glory on a busy day, expecting to read only a chapter or so. As I began reading, I reprioritized my agenda and got through the entire book (and a stack of tissues) in one sitting. I expected this book to be good, but I did not expect to be so affected by the testimonies of such serious, historical theologians. This slim, 214-page volume was profoundly healing and encouraging for this infertility-worn seminary student and would make an excellent addition to any church or counselling library.
Author James W. Bruce III, married to Joni, works as an attorney and serves as an elder at Grace Bible Church of Oklahoma City. His middle son, John Cameron Bruce, lived a short life of only fifty-five days during the winter of 1997. It was Bruce’s deep sorrow over this dear boy’s death that encouraged him to seek out the comfort and consolation that God has extended to Christians throughout history, appropriate it for himself and share it with others – for the glory of God and the good of his brothers and sisters in Christ.
This text features the succinct, yet moving biographies of significant historical Christians who have grieved the loss of a young child, including: John Bunyan, Martin Luther, Robert L. Dabney, Philip Melanchthon, C. H. Spurgeon, Johann Sebastian Bach, John Bradford, John Calvin, Matthew Henry, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Lemuel Haynes, Frederick Douglass, George Muller, John Owen, Samuel Rutherford, John Flavel, Benjamin Morgan Palmer, Thomas Boston, John Brown, Hetty Wesley, Selina Hastings, Fanny Crosby, as well as the author’s own testimony.
In the testimonies and service of these dear saints, Bruce traced a common journey from grief to glory: beginning with the death and burial of a child, descending into the valley of weeping and grief, then rising to a life of service for the glory of God and the good of others. These dear Christians proved God’s strength to be perfect in their very human weakness and came to testify with Paul:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation. 2 Cor. 1:3-7 [The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.)]
This general pattern of testimony is very different from Kubler-Ross’s Stages of Grief. Rather than an observation of fallible, human patterns, Bruce testifies to the tender, redemptive faithfulness of God. These accounts also remind us of how very prone we are to assuming patterns of health-wealth-and-prosperity thinking (assuming that good Christians shouldn’t experience loss), stoic thinking (assuming that Christians should not suffer when loss does occur) or thinking of historical theologians as near-mythic figures.
One of the great strengths of this book is that it builds mutual compassion between the contemporary reader and some of the great theologians of reformation and modern church history. Tending a broken heart with church history is a little like making a repair with two part epoxy: the theology is unlikely to stick unless it is combined well with a thorough understanding of the theologian’s credible profession of faith and compassionate ministry. This could not have been an easy or obvious study of church history for Bruce: searching out primary sources, creating time-lines and weaving together biography with theology. The work was valuable however, in refreshing my perspective of how God can work in the lives of his children and Bruce shared his findings ‘for the glory of God and the welfare of those we meet along the way’ (p. 9).
From Grief to Glory is also distinctively and admirably masculine. I have not read another extra-biblical text that so plainly and effectively leads the heartbroken Christian through this sorrow, providing biblical fellowship and truth, protecting the reader with orthodox theology.
The loss of a beloved, longed for, prayed for child through death at a young age, stillbirth, miscarriage, failed adoption, even infertility, is a difficult, stormy sorrow for the Christian to navigate faithfully. It is also a profoundly different context for the weaving process of marriage, than that which occurs as most couples become parents.
There is a need for the strength and leadership which mature, godly men can lend to those reeling from such losses. Such issues of life-and-death ought not to be considered primarily women’s issues. While women benefit greatly from the care and counsel of more mature Christian women, such mentors could never replace the appropriate leadership, provision and protection of a mature, godly husband, father, pastor, and other Christian leaders. I am glad that Bruce wrote this book to offer grieving couples biblical comfort and hope.
From Grief to Glory was a tremendously healing and encouraging read for this reviewer. My copy sports dozens of tabs, reminding me to return to particular passages to further contemplate the many reminders that God is compassionate and gracious, that he is good, and that even in my season of profound sorrow, he has good plans for my life, to give me a hope and future. Even though I would not have chosen this path of sorrow for the early years of my marriage, God did and he did it for our good and his glory – to increasingly conform us to the image of his Son. We are not alone, we are not rejected, or forsaken. God is in the business of blessing and sanctifying this difficult journey. We can trust that God can use us in his service for his glory and the good of others. How blessed we are to have reminders of these quiet truths.
Spiritual Journeys of Mourning Parents
I sat down to read From Grief to Glory on a busy day, expecting to read only a chapter or so. As I began reading, I reprioritized my agenda and got through the entire book (and a stack of tissues) in one sitting. I expected this book to be good, but I did not expect […]
Taken with permission from The Journal of Modern Ministry, Volume 6, Issue 3, Fall 2009.
Love and Its Correlatives 23 January 2020
It was our Lord who said, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other […]
Setting the Word of God Free 17 January 2020
The problem that confronts us all and dwarfs every other is how are we to bring the Word of God to our generation? If the apostles saw fit to appoint others to serve tables that they might devote themselves ‘continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word,’ it is clear that any ministry which […]