Archives and Manuscript Repository for the Continuing Presbyterian Church

Manuscript Collections :
Synthetic Collections :

Historic Documents in American Presbyterian History


The Rev. John Hanna Gray, D.D., writing in consolation to a pastor and his wife on the death of their son--

MY DEARLY BELOVED BROTHER : Hearing of your sudden and deep affliction, and wishing to say some word of comfort, and not knowing what to say, I did as the disciples did on the sudden and violent death of John the Baptist, “went and told Jesus.” I then turned to the Bible, the great repository of light and comfort. I knew that you had often opened this fountain to others, in the time of their calamity, and given them sweet consolation. And now I only wish to refresh your pure mind, by way of rememberance, for I know that sudden and powerful strokes seem to paralyze the faculties of the soul for a season. You will, therefore, pardon me while I direct your thoughts to a few great truths contained in the Bible.

First. The Bible teaches that afflictions come from God. “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god with Me: I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand. (Deut. 32:39.) “The Lord killeth and maketh alive: He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.” (1 Sam. 2:6) “Affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground.” (Job 5:6) “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it.” (Ps. 39:9.)

Second. The Bible teaches that afflictions are beneficial, and are proofs to God’s people of His love, and not of His anger. “Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: there-fore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty; for He maketh sore and bindeth up: He woundeth and His hands make whole.” (Job 5: 17 and 18.) “Blessed is the man whom Thou chastenest, O, Lord.” (Ps. 94: 12.) “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of His correction, for whom the Lord loveth He correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.” (Prov. 3 : 11 and 12.) “For they verily chastened us after their own pleasure, but He, for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holi-ness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; neverthe-less afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them that are exercised thereby.” (Heb. 12:10 and 11.)

Third. Take some cases recorded in the Bible of God’s dealings with His own children. One of the excellencies of the Bible is, that it is biographical. It is not a collection of abstract principles, or theological maxims, but a living illustration of these truths, exhibited in the every day experience of humanity. Revelation is drawn out in living characters.

1st. The case of Job. We have the testi-monty of God Himself, that he was “a perfect man; one that feared God, and eschewed evil.” Yet wave after wave of sorrow rolls over him. One messenger of evil after another is sent with said tidings. (See Job, chapter 1.) How does he act, and what does he say? “He fell down on the ground, and worshipped, and said: Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord.” This case proves the truth, that whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.

2d. The case of Aaron. He is called of God to be the High Priest of His chosen people. This high honour and exaltation cannot, or does not prevent the chastening of the Lord. His two sons, Nadab and Abihu, who seemed to be associated with him in the services of the sanctuary, transgressed the ordinances of God, and a fire from the Lord devoured them, and they died. When his brother, Moses, communicated the sad event to him, the simple and instructive record is, “And Aaron held his peace.” (Lev. 10: 3.) He was dumb with silence, because God did it. This is another proof of the saying: Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.

3d. The case of Eli, another Priest of the Lord. His high office and holy character cannot shield him from the rod of affliction. When Samuel, who had received the knowledge of the impending calamity directly from the Lord, communicated the vision to Eli, and hid nothing from him, Eli said: “It is the Lord: let Him do what seemeth Him good.” (1 Sam. 3: 18.)

So it has been in all past time, and so it will be in all coming time, as it is at the present. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” Therefore, my brother, “despise not the chastening of the Lord, neither be weary of His correction.”

Now, in reference to the cases cited, there is very little to comfort the hearts of the parents as to the future happiness of their sons, except, perhaps, Job; yet they meekly bowed to His will. But when you look to the future, and follow the spirit of your departed son, you can say, with David, “I shall go to him; but he shall not return to me.” He was too ripe for earth; too pure and lovely to dwell in these low grounds of sin and death; and hence his early translation to the heavenly world, where “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.”

I need not repeat the dying expressions of your noble boy. They are precious and hallowed sayings. Thus,

“In calm unruffled peace,
Like the mild glory of the setting sun,”
he passed away from eath, to dwell for ever in the bosom of his God.

In conclusion, let me say, the moral influence of such a life, brief as it was, cannot be lost. Not only his life, but his death, was a testimony for Jesus. He was more than a conqueror. His was a translation, rather than a death. There was grief, but no gloom in that chamber. The glory of heaven seemed to illumine it. His sun went down without a cloud. The weary pilgrim rested on the celestial Canaan, and was welcomed by angels and by Christ.

My dear brother, while this letter is addressed to you, it is intended also to cheer the heart of that honoured, but deeply stricken one, the mother of your boy. Just let me say to her:

“O, when a mother meets on hight
The boy she lost in infancy,
Hath she not then, for pains and fears,
The day of woe and watchful night,
For all her sorrow, all her tears,
An over payment of delight?”

Your sympathizing friend and brother,

J. H. Gray.