From Grief to Glory – A Review by Martin Downes
‘Grace tried is better than grace, and it is more than grace; it is glory in its infancy.’ (Samuel Rutherford)
‘You will never find Jesus so precious as when the world is one vast howling wilderness. Then He is like a rose blooming in the midst of the desolation, – a rock rising above the storm.’ (Robert Murray M’Cheyne)
James Bruce has done us all a remarkable service by writing, and the Banner of Truth for publishing, From Grief to Glory: A Book of Comfort for Grieving Parents. I would not hesitate to say that every pastor and elder ought to read this book, and every church bookstall or library should have several copies. I’m so glad that my friend Geoff Thomas sent this book to me. My wife and I were amazed to discover that in the UK over six thousand babies a year are either stillborn or die in the first few weeks of birth.
James Bruce writes out of his own experience of sorrow at the death of his son aged just fifty five days. He says that he prayed that God would spare him this sorrow:
But God’s ways are not our ways, and he would not let me play the coward or escape the cords of death so easily. What I had feared most came to pass, and (now I can say) we had the blessing of being with our son the night he died . . . God had beheld his unformed substance and decreed the bounds beyond which he could not pass. (p. 17)
He then goes on to ask ‘ . . . who has set us a Christian example of how to bear up under the loss of a child?’ (p.18). The answer to that question can be found throughout the pages of church history. Grieving parents today have the company of those in the past who shed the same tears and found the comfort of a loving, gracious God and Father:
This book is a collection of short accounts of some of these eminent men and women who lost a beloved child – who wept and who yet were comforted by the Father of mercies . . . The comfort they obtained has helped me, and I believe that all who suffer similar losses may discover these saints to be comrades and find in their stories comfort and encouragement for present distresses. But you must follow them all the way to the path of glory. (p. 21)
The book is a compilation of testimonies, poems, and hymns articulating the grief and triumphant faith of Luther, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Calvin, the Countess of Huntingdon, Matthew Henry, Charles Wesley, Horatius Bonar, R.L. Dabney, and many others.
Listen to Luther:
As they laid her in the coffin he said: ‘Darling Lena, you will rise and shine like a star, yea, like the sun. I am happy in spirit, but the flesh is sorrowful and will not be content, the parting grieves me beyond measure. I have sent a saint to heaven.’ (p. 44)
And to Dabney:
Ah! When the mighty wings of the angel of death nestle over your heart’s treasures, and his black shadow broods over your home, it shakes the heart with a shuddering terror and a horror of great darkness . . . As I stand by the little grave, and think of the poor ruined clay within, that was a few days ago so beautiful, my heart bleeds. But as I ask, ‘Where is the soul whose beams gave that clay all its beauty and preciousness?’ I triumph! (p. 50)
Now I feel, as never before, the blessedness of the redeeming grace and divine blood, which has ransomed my poor babe from all the sin and death which he inherited through me. (p. 51)
The book is valuable because it is honest about the agony of losing a child (‘Small coffins are placed in the ground, but more than the body is buried’), of the shattering of a father’s and a mother’s hopes and dreams. And yet this book also powerfully testifies to the comfort of God, of his redemption in Christ, of victory over the grave, of sufficent promises to sustain his people in their sorrows. This is true.
It is not the death of children but the loss of the gospel that ultimately leaves us in despair. Not that this comfort always comes without a struggle. The emotions are raw and real, but as Bruce says:
Still, in general, you will find in these writers that faith prevails over emotions. Emotions are based on what we see, but faith on what we know. In the midst of trails, particularly as we mourn the death of a loved one, we must walk by faith and not by sight. Our eyes see defeat in the corpse, the casket, and the grave. Yet by faith we may say, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? . . . Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 15:54-57). (p. 21)
Spiritual Journeys of Mourning Parents
‘Grace tried is better than grace, and it is more than grace; it is glory in its infancy.’ (Samuel Rutherford) ‘You will never find Jesus so precious as when the world is one vast howling wilderness. Then He is like a rose blooming in the midst of the desolation, – a rock rising above the […]
Martin Downes is Pastor of Christ Church, Deeside, Shotton, North Wales. This review appeared on his Against Heresies blog on 5 November 2008.
On Eagles’ Wings January 20, 2023
In Exodus 19:4 God says that he bore his people on eagles’ wings. What does that mean? It’s a picture he returns to in Deuteronomy 32:11, where he says he dealt with Israel Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on […]
A Pastoral Mistake January 19, 2023
I often make the same pastoral mistake. It is not deliberate, it is often well-intentioned, sometimes it is even hopeful. It is this: to presume upon the biblical knowledge of the people to whom I speak. I do not at all mean by this to deliver a backhanded insult, appearing to confess a shortcoming of […]