The death of children a ministry of good to parents
The Lord is a being of infinite love and wisdom. All that He does, therefore, must be done from pure love, and in an absolutely perfect way. He must regard the highest good of all in everything which He provides, permits, and prevents. The Lord never permits the smallest evil to come upon any human being when it could be prevented without causing a greater evil. All the bereavements, the sorrow, and suffering of humanity are a less evil than their prevention would be, in the condition in which men now are.
Nor is this sum of general good obtained by striking a balance and setting the general good against individual suffering. "The Lord is good to all and His tender mercies are over all His works." In every bereavement He regards the good of those who suffer as well as those who are saved from it. In the removal of children to the other life, He looks to the good of the parents as well as the children. We can see some respects in which the children are gainers by being taken out of a world of sin and sorrow, and committed to the care of the angels in a world where death and sorrow cannot enter. If we could see its effects upon the sorely smitten parents, we should find the wisdom and loving-kindness of the Lord as fully shown towards them as towards the beloved ones He had taken from the circle of their homes. The Lord never takes away the least good from us without giving us a greater one in return, He gives us our children to be a blessing to us - He takes them from us naturally to give them to us more fully spiritually. It may not be possible for us, blinded as we are by evil and falsity, and smarting with the pain of separation, to see clearly and fully how our afflictions can be turned into blessings. But the nature of the Divine Providence necessitates the conclusion, and in the light of the Divine Truth embodied in our doctrines we may be able to see some things in which the removal of our children may be a blessing to us.
By the removal of our children to the spiritual world, the Lord teaches us a lesson concerning their ownership which we are slow to learn. He teaches us that they are not our own; that they are His children. He makes us instrumental in their creation, and binds them to us by the most tender ties. He commits them to our care, and enriches the commission with a multitude of blessings. He opens new fountains of love in the parental heart, and calls a great variety of affections into activity, and develops the whole nature on a certain plane of life. Let any father or mother conceive all the affection, the thought, the culture and discipline and delight every child has given them to be taken from them, would it not leave an immense void in their natures. These joys which daily flow into the heart from this source; this constant culture and discipline, this enlargement of our natures, is the reward the Lord gives us for our service. The reward is so great, and they become bound to us by so many ties, that we almost unconsciously claim them as our own, and feel that we have a right to do what we please with them.
But this is not so. They are the Lord's: He has the only absolute ownership in them. They are committed to us in trust to take care of, to educate, and train up for heaven. They are given to us for the same purpose that those who are removed to the other life are given to the angels, and we have no right to educate them for any other purpose than for His service. We ought to regard them as most precious trusts committed to our care by our heavenly Father for a specific purpose, and we ought to be scrupulously faithful in discharging it, and ready to resign it when the Lord calls upon us to do so.
When a child is taken from us, it reminds us of this great truth. It helps us to see more clearly that they are not our own, and it leads us to scrutinize our actions, to see whether we have been faithful or not in the discharge of our duty. It tends to place our relation to our children in a true light.
Suppose you regarded every one of your children as the Lord's, as given to you in trust with great rewards for your care, to train up for heaven; suppose you should keep this truth directly before you; would it not have a most powerful influence over your motives and methods of care and instruction of your children? Would you not inquire, How shall I acquit myself of this trust? How shall I educate these children that they may become sons and daughters of the Lord ? If a friend should put into your hands a sum of money, in trust, to keep and use for his or her benefit as an honest man or woman, you would feel under an obligation to be faithful to this trust. If you began to regard it as your own, to have and hold and spend for your own purposes, would it not tend to correct your mistake of purpose and action to have your friend take a part or the whole of the sum from your hands?
Is it not so with our children? We are prone to regard them as our own absolutely, to use and direct as we please. How few regard it as the end of providing food and clothing, and a home, and education for their children, that they may be trained up for heaven! How little is done directly for this purpose! When, therefore, the Lord comes and takes a. child from our care and transfers it to the care of the angels, He reminds us in the most forcible way that it is His child, that those who remain with us are His children, and that we must be diligent and faithful in educating them for His service, The whole effect, if rightly viewed, would help us to see the relation which our children bear to us, and to the Lord, in a true light, and to discharge the trust committed to us in a more faithful manner.
But again: The tendency of affliction is to soften our natures, and to break the force of our natural desires. This is especially the case with the removal of children, and those who are dear to us, to the other life. They are bound to us by the tenderest ties. It is a provision of the Lord's mercy that our life should, begin in a sphere of love. Parental affection is a real bond between the parent and child. The mother's life and the father's life brood over it, and warm it, and receive warmth from the Lord in communicating it. Our children are a part of ourselves, of our own being, and when they are taken from us, what a bottomless gulf is left in the heart! How lonely the house is without their presence! How silent without the music of their voices! The vacant chair occupies more space in our thoughts and affections than all the others. An empty cradle makes the whole house empty. The light that has faded from the bright eye makes the whole house dark, and our own souls also. Every earthly good appears in dimmer light, and becomes less precious. What is the use of wealth, if there is no beloved one on whom to lavish it? What is the use of home, if the dear ones have fled? It is a deserted nest. Our hold upon every earthly good is relaxed. We see that it cannot be relied upon. We distrust it. The foundations are loosened. How many a father and mother have felt the solid earth reeling under their feet when the body of their beautiful, their beloved one, was being committed to it. So the all-merciful Lord cuts the chords of our natural affections which anchor us to the earth, and lets us drift out upon the ocean of life, that He may bring us into the great currents of His love and wisdom, and draw us towards our real home in heaven.
The natural level in us is hard and cold. It must be subdued, and softened. It must be put into the alembic of suffering, and purified as silver in a potter's vessel. It must be melted in the furnace of affliction, as we melt iron, to purify it from dross, and cast it into the moulds of more beautiful forms. This is one important use of all sorrow and affliction. It does not give us anything, but it prepares us to receive something better than earth can give. As in some optical exhibitions they darken the room, that we may see more clearly the particular thing exhibited, so the removal of our children puts out the light of earth, that the Lord may reveal to us more clearly the beauty and glory of heaven.
But this softening of the natural mind in the furnace of affliction is not a punishment. It is not uncommon for parents to regard their bereavements as an evidence of the Divine displeasure, and a punishment for sin, and this is the most terrible ingredient in the bitter cup of sorrow. The idea that the Lord has lifted His right hand to smite our little ones, who are innocent of all blame, that He may, through their sufferings, pierce our own hearts with the keenest pangs, is too horrible to be entertained. No! The mother would sooner put out the eyes of the babe lying upon her breast, or pierce its tender and sensitive flesh with needles, to punish the husband and father she loves better than her own life. The Lord's love is infinite. He cannot inflict a pang upon one of His children. He cannot suffer a shadow to fall upon one of them, unless it is for the purpose of preventing a deeper shadow, or of preparing the way for a greater light. The Lord's love for the father and mother and child infinitely surpasses their love for each other, and His desire to shelter them from every storm, and confer upon them the highest blessings, is as great as His love. He loosens our hold upon earth that He may draw us by the chords of love to heaven.
A little child grows to our very hearts. The sensitive and strong tendrils of our affections entwine into the nature of the child. The heart anchors to it. The image of the beloved one is in all our thoughts. The whole nature unconsciously and constantly turns to it. It is our most precious treasure, our idol often, and our heart is where our treasure is. Now the Lord transfers our treasure to heaven. Will not the natural effect be to lead us to look to heaven where our treasure is? Our thought must follow the little ones who so recently were folded to our own hearts. It cannot be otherwise.
Those who have no knowledge of the other world, can, indeed, only look into vacuity. All upon the other side of the veil is a blank to them, and the best and most they can do is to submit, and trust in the Lord.
Some are stimulated to inquire if there is not some light shining from the other world through the dark valley and, happily for humanity, there is a growing conviction that there is such light. Many now inquire, and get light and comfort, who formerly would have borne their sorrow in hopeless silence. This is a great gain. Many look up through their tears and find light which grows brighter as they look, and they follow it. We are not only on the earth in this life, we are in the earth. We are in the material body. Material substances are above us and around us. We breathe a material atmosphere. We see by material light. We live on material food. With material hands we touch and handle only material things. Compared with those who dwell in the spiritual world, we are like miners born underground, in some dark mine, with only dim smoky lamps for their light. The rock beneath them is their earth, the rock above them is their sky, and their hanging lamps their sun and moon and stars. The chambers and galleries are their countries and their homes.
It is said that children have been born in the vast mines in the old world, and have grown up there, without having ever seen the world above them. Suppose some friend who dearly loved these parents and children, and earnestly desired to lead them out of their gloomy abode into the light and beauty of this world, should send letters and messengers to them to persuade them to give up their narrow dungeons and come up into the light. Failing in his purpose, she goes herself. She sets forth in as forcible a manner as possible the advantages of this change of place. She describes the sun, and the blue sky, and broad landscapes, lovely with trees and streams and grass and flowers. pictures the clouds and the fresh air; and the beautiful homes, filled with many comforts and luxuries.
But their minds are dwarfed, and their conceptions of what she describes are dim and vague. Their home is in the mine. Their associations are all there. Their thoughts are bounded by its narrow walls. Why should they wander off into the vague and boundless unknown? Finding it impossible to persuade them to leave their dismal abode, she snatches an infant from the mother's arms, and rushes away towards the upper world. Now the parents, frantic with grief, follow her to recover their lost treasure. In seizing the child, she has seized the parents by the heart. She has taken their treasure, and they follow her through many a dark and winding way, but finally lose all trace of her, and return to their desolate and rocky home. How they mourn! How involuntarily and constantly their hearts and thoughts turn to their child, and to her who has bereaved them. How could she be so cruel as to take away their richest treasure!
When the first storm of anger is over, and they can look more calmly upon their great bereavement, they begin to read her words. They reflect upon what she has said about the upper world. She must have taken their child there, and they resolve to follow her, to search every avenue, and to leave no means untried to discover the dwelling and regain the lost.
So the Lord sometimes takes our children, out of the earth, out of the darkness and misery of material conditions, and carries them into the brightness and beauty of the spiritual world, that He may lead us by our affections to follow them; that we may learn those truths, and follow in those paths which lead to the peace and blessedness of heaven. His motive is love to us and to our children, and His method the one which will the most effectually serve His purpose.
We should have no thought or care for the other life if we never saw or heard of anyone passing into it. It is difficult, even now, when we see a funeral procession, and are ourselves often called upon to follow the earthly remains of those who are dear to us, to the tomb. But if they remained forever about us, our thoughts and affections would never rise above the earth. Why should they? There would be no motive. Our interests are all here.
But as one after another passes away from the circle of home, they carry with them something of our thought and affection. The balance of influence in favor of the spiritual world begins to preponderate. With every departure some weight is transferred from one scale to the other; the hold of earth upon us weakens, and the bonds of spiritual life grow stronger. Have you not found it so in your own experience? Does not the other life draw near, and become more real, and this life seem to become more unsubstantial and to fade away, as friend after friend departs ?
I doubt not it is so. And so far as it is, and you are led to think rightly about it, the removal of those who are dear to you is a substantial good. The spiritual world is the real world. It is the home of all the past generations. It will soon be our home. We shall all remove to it in a few days, and we shall dwell in it for ever. Any instruction or discipline, any sorrow or joy, which leads us to think of it and to prepare for it must be a blessing.
But it is only in appearance that our children are taken from us. In reality it is not so. They are more fully given to us. They are taken from our natural senses to be more fully given to us as spiritual beings. Bodily presence is not real presence. Bodily nearness is not spiritual nearness. Those who dwell in the same house and sit at the same table, who live and labor together, may be more remote than those who live on the opposite side of the globe. It is similarity of thought and affection which bring people really together, and bind them to each other.
Two material bodies intervene between those who are the nearest to each other in this world. The mother can only reach her child through her own material body and that of the child's. When the material body of either is removed, an obstruction is removed. When a good mother passes into the other life, she comes nearer to her children who remain in this, and can do more for their spiritual good than she could have done while on the earth. By virtue of the same law, a child - a little infant - has more influence upon its natural parents, and brothers, and sisters, than it could have in this world. It has passed from a lower to a higher plane of their being. It comes nearer their hearts, and touches the more interior springs of action. Its influence tends to purify the fountain of life. A child in the other life becomes a new avenue of communication between us and the angels, and a new bond of conjunction with them. In this way their life and the Divine life is poured more fully into our hearts.
The spiritual world, we must remember, is not situated at some immeasurable distance from us in space. It is here. It is around us. We are in it now, as to our spirits. All our ability to know and love, to think and act, is from that world, and through the medium of those who dwell in it. The homes of the angels with whom our sanctified children dwell may be around our firesides. We are living in the midst of spiritual beings all the time, and if our spiritual sight was opened we should see them.
In the many instances of the opening of the spiritual sight recorded in the Sacred Scriptures, the persons whose sight was opened remained in this world. John was in the isle of Patmos as to his body while he was in heaven as to his spirit, and saw the Lord and the many wonderful things recorded in the Revelation. Our children, therefore, do not go away from us in space when they die. They remain as near to us as they are drawn by affection, and to the extent of their influence they enter into our affections for all that is good and true, and vivify them with the innocence of heaven.
I think we have good reason, also, for believing that they awaken a lively interest in the minds of the angels to whose care they are committed for their parents and friends in this world.
If an infant was committed to your care by Divine appointment, would it not lead you to desire to know something of its parents? If the child had been taken from the parents without their consent, as a child is taken by death, or without their knowledge, would not your sympathies be awakened for the poor suffering father and mother? Would you not feel that you had a special call to do all in your power to comfort them, and if you could not restore the child to them, to do your best to prepare them to be restored to the child ?
What love for the bereaved and sorrowing parents must these little ones who have gone from our homes to the homes of the angels awaken in their hearts! How ardently they must desire to comfort and support us in our affliction! How efficiently they will do it, so far as we open our hearts to their gentle and pure affections! They lift us up from the earth; they wipe the tears of sorrow from our eyes; they pour the balm of heavenly consolation into the torn and bleeding heart; they draw us, if we will yield to their loving influence, by heavenly attractions towards themselves and the Lord. They enlist others in our favor, and make us a center of interest to all in the heavens who can approach us.
It is true that this influence comes very faintly to our consciousness while we are in this life. It is a repose and elevation of the affections; it is a clearer thought concerning the Lord and the other life, it is a parting of the clouds for a moment; it is a firmer purpose to shun evils; to live a more unselfish and less worldly life; to do more for others; to be gentler, and kinder, and truer, and. more devoted to the living. As we give the angels opportunity, they insinuate the germs of heavenly good into our hearts, and as we yield to their guidance, they lead us to heaven and the Lord. They touch the springs of our natures; they put their gentle hands on the helm of life; they make the lion and the lamb in our natures to lie down together, and the little child whom we mourned as lost, leads them.
Blessed innocents! Treasures laid up in heaven! Riches past our capacity to estimate! Loving bonds between us and the angels! They are not lost to us. The Lord has not taken them from us. He has suffered the outward links of the chain which bound them to us to fall away, that the inward might be strengthened. He has brought them nearer to us, and He uses their tender natures as a way in which He can approach us more nearly, and gain a more powerful hold upon us. He blessed us in giving them to us. He blessed us in taking them from our natural sight, and He preserves them a living source of blessing to us now and for evermore. If we could see the whole effect upon us of their birth and translation, as He sees it, and has provided it, we should say with our hearts as well as with our lips, "The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."