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Submission To Divine Providence In The Death Of Children by Philip Doddridge

2 KINGS IV. 25, 26.

And it came to pass when the Man of GOD saw her afar off, that he said to Gehazi his Servant, Behold, yonder is that Shunamite: Run now, I pray thee, to meet her, and say unto her, Is it well with thee? Is it well with thine Husband? Is it well with the Child? And she answered, It is well.

WHEN the Apostle would encourage our Hope and Trust in the Tenderness of Christ as the great High Priest and convince us that he is capable of being touched with a sympathetick Sense of our Infirmities, he argues at large from this Consideration, that Jesus was in all Points tempted like us; so that as he himself has suffer'd, being tempted, he knows how more compassionately to succour those that are under the like Trials[a]. Now this must surely intimate, that it is not in human Nature, even in its most perfect State, so tenderly to commiserate any Sorrows, as those which our own Hearts have felt: As we cannot form a perfect Idea of any bitter Kind of Draught, by the most exact Description, till we have ourselves tasted it. It is probably for this Reason, amongst others, that GOD frequently exercises such, as have the Honour to be inferior Shepherds in the Flock of Christ, with a long Train of various Afflictions, that we may be able to comfort them who are in the like Trouble, with those Consolations with which we have ourselves been comforted of GOD[b]. And, if we have the Temper which becomes our Office, it will greatly reconcile us to our Trials, to consider, that from our weeping Eyes, and our bleeding Hearts, a Balm may be extracted to heal the Sorrows of others, and a Cordial to revive their fainting Spirits. May we never be left to sink under our Burden, in such a manner, that there should be room, after all that we have boasted of the Strength of religious Supports, to apply to us the Words of Eliphaz to Job[c], Thou hast strengthen'd the weak Hands, and upheld him that was ready to fall; but now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest; it touches thee, and thou art troubled! May we never behave, as if the Consolations of GOD were small[d]; lest it should be as when a Standard-Bearer fainteth[e], and whole Companies of Soldiers are thrown into Confusion and Distress!

MY Friends, you are Witnesses for me, that I have not stood by as an unconcerned Spectator amidst the Desolations of your respective Families, when GOD's awful Hand hath been lopping off those tender Branches from them, which were once our common Hope and Delight. I have often put my Soul in the stead of yours, and endeavour'd to give such a Turn to my publick as well as my private Discourses, as might be a means of composing and chearing your Minds, and forming you to a submissive Temper, that you might be subject to the Father of Spirits, and live[f]. In this View I have, at different Times, largely insisted on the Example of Aaron, who held his peace[g], when his two eldest Sons were struck dead in a Moment by Fire from the Lord, which destroyed them in the very Act of their Sin; and I have also represented that of Job, who, when the Death of ten Children by one Blow was added to the Spoil of his great Possessions, could say, The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord[h]. The Instance which is here before us, is not indeed so memorable as these; but to present Circumstances it is, in many Respects, more suitable: And it may the rather deserve our Notice, as it shews us the Wisdom, Composure, and Piety of one of the weaker and tenderer Sex, on an Occasion of such aggravated Distress, that had Aaron or Job behaved just as she did, we must have acknowledged, that they had not sunk beneath the Dignity of their Character, nor appear'd unworthy of our Applause, and our Imitation.

INDEED there may be some Reason to imagine, that it was with Design to humble those who are in distinguish'd Stations of Life, and who have peculiar Advantages and Obligations to excel in Religion, that GOD has shewn us in Scripture, as well as in common Life, some bright Examples of Piety, where they could hardly have been expected in so great a Degree; and hath, as it were, perfected Praise out of the Mouths of Babes and Sucklings[i]. Thus when Zacharias[k], an aged Priest, doubted the Veracity of the Angel which appeared to assure him of the Birth of his Child, which was to be produced in an ordinary Way; Mary, an obscure young Virgin, could believe a far more unexampled Event, and said, with humble Faith and thankful Consent, Behold the Hand-maid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy Word[l]. Jonah the Prophet, tho' favour'd with such immediate Revelations, and so lately delivered, in a miraculous Way, from the very Belly of Hell[m], was thrown into a most indecent Transport of Passion, on the withering of a Gourd; so that he presumed to tell the Almighty to his Face, that he did well to be angry even unto Death[n]: Whereas this pious Woman preserves the Calmness and Serenity of her Temper, when she had lost a Child, a Son, an only Child, who had been given beyond all natural Hope, and therefore to be sure was so much the dearer, and the Expectation from him so much the higher. Yet are these Expectations dash'd almost in a Moment; and this, when he was grown up to an Age when Children are peculiarly entertaining; for he was old enough to be with his Father in the Field, where no doubt he was diverting him with his fond Prattle; yet he was not too big to be laid on his Mother's Knees[o], when he came home complaining of his Head; so that he was probably about five or six Years old. This amiable Child was well in the Morning, and dead by Noon; a pale Corpse in his Mother's Arms! and he now lay dead in the House; and yet they had the Faith, and the Goodness to say, |It is well.|

THIS good Woman had found the Prophet Elisha grateful for all the Favours he had received at her House; where she had from time to time accommodated him in his Journies, and thought it an Honour rather than an Incumbrance. She had experienced the Power of his Prayers, in answer to which the Child had been given; and 'tis extremely probable, that she also recollected the Miracle which Elijah had wrought a few Years before, tho' till that Time the like had not been known in Israel, or on Earth; I mean, in raising from the Dead the Child of that Widow of Sarepta[p], who had nourished him during the Famine. She might therefore think it a possible Case, that the Miracle might be renewed; at least, she knew not how to comfort herself better, than by going to so good a Friend, and asking his Counsels and his Prayers, to enable her to bear her Affliction, if it must not be removed[*].

ACCORDINGLY she hasted to him; and he, on the other side, discovered the Temper of a real Friend, in the Message with which he sent Gehazi his Servant to meet her, while she was yet afar off. The Moment she appeared, the Concerns of her whole Family seem to have come into his kind Heart at once, and he particularly asks, Is it well with thee? Is it well with thine Husband? Is it well with the Child? A beautiful Example of that affectionate Care for the Persons and Families of their Friends, which Christian Ministers (who, like the Prophets of old, are called Men of GOD[q]) should habitually bear about in their Hearts; which should be awakened by every Sight of them, and expressed on every proper Occasion.

HER Answer was very remarkable: She said, It is well. Perhaps she meant this, to divert the more particular Enquiry of the Servant; as she had before made the same Answer to her Husband, when he had examined into the Reason of her intended Journey, as probably not knowing of the sad Breach which had been made: She said, It is well[r]; which was a civil way of intimating her Desire that he would not ask any more particular Questions. But I cannot see any Reason to restrain the Words to this Meaning alone: We have ground to believe, from the Piety she expressed in her first Regards to Elisha, and the Opportunities which she had of improving in Religion by the frequent Converse of that holy Man, that when she used this Language, she intended thereby to express her Resignation to the Divine Will in what had lately pass'd: And this might be the Meaning of her Heart, (tho' one ignorant of the Particulars of her Case, might not fully understand it from such ambiguous Words; ) |It is well on the whole. Though my Family be afflicted, we are afflicted in Faithfulness; tho' my dear Babe be dead, yet my Heavenly Father is just, and he is good in all. He knows how to bring Glory to himself, and Advantage to us, from this Stroke. Whether this Application do, or do not succeed, whether the Child be, or be not restored, it is still well; well with him, and well with us; for we are in such wise and such gracious Hands, that I would not allow one murmuring Word, or one repining Thought.| So that, on the whole, the Sentiment of this good Shunamite was much the same with that of Hezekiah, when he answered to that dreadful Threatning which imported the Destruction of his Children, Good is the Word of the Lord which he hath spoken[s]; or that of Job, when he heard that all his Sons and his Daughters were crushed under the Ruins of their elder Brother's House, and yet (in the fore-cited Words) blessed the Name of the Lord.

Now this is the Temper to which, by divine Assistance, we should all labour to bring our own Hearts, when GOD puts this bitter Cup into our Hands, and takes away with a Stroke those dear Little-ones, which were the Desire of our Eyes[t], and the Joy of our Hearts. Let us not content ourselves, in such Circumstances, with keeping the Door of our Lips[u], that we break not out into any Indecencies of Complaint; let us not attempt to harden ourselves against our Sorrows by a stern Insensibility, or that sullen Resolution which sometimes says, It is a Grief, and I must bear it[w]; but let us labour, (for a great Labour it will indeed be,) to compose and quiet our Souls, calmly to acquiesce in this painful Dispensation, nay, cordially to approve it as in present Circumstances every Way fit.

IT will be the main Business of this Discourse, to prove how reasonable such a Temper is, or to shew how much Cause Christian Parents have to borrow the Language of the Text, when their Infant Offspring is taken away, and to say with the pious Shunamite, in the noblest Sense that her Words will bear, -- It is well.

AND here I would more particularly shew, -- It is well in the general, because GOD does it: -- It is surely well for the pious Parents in particular, because it is the Work of their Covenant GOD: -- They may see many Respects in which it is evidently so, by observing what useful Lessons it has a Tendency to teach them: -- And they have Reason to hope, it is well with those dear Creatures whom GOD hath removed in their early Days.

THESE are surely convincing Reasons to the Understanding: Yet who can say, that they shalt be Reasons to the Heart? Arise, O GOD, and plead thine own Cause[x] in the most effectual Manner! May thy powerful and gracious Voice appease the swelling Billows of the Passions, and produce a great and delightful Calm in our Souls, in which we may yet enjoy thee and ourselves, tho' a Part of our Treasure be for the present swallowed up!

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