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A Letter Out of Grief

by Samuel Danforth

[In 1659 an unknown disease, perhaps pertussis, swept through several towns in New England. Samuel Danforth, minister at Roxbury, lost all three of his children to the epidemic. Some time later he was asked by friends to put on paper some of the words he spoke at their funeral. This is the letter he wrote in reply.]

My Friends: If any that see my grief should say to me, as the Danites to Micah, 'What is wrong with you?' I thank God I cannot answer as he did, 'They have taken away my gods.' My heart was indeed somewhat set upon my children, especially the eldest; but they were not my gods and not my portion; my portion is whole and untouched to this day. It has been my design and work to understand for myself, and to communicate to my hearers the spiritual meaning, extent and nature of gospel obedience. I have employed much reading and study to expound what faith, hope, love, patience, etc., the glorious wisdom, power and mercy of God oblige us to render to him. What I have endeavoured to set forth before you, God will now test. Both God and you will see whether they were mere notions and speculations, or whether I believed as I spoke, and whether there is any divine spark in my heart. I remember him that said to Abraham, 'By this I know that you fear me, that you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.' It is the pleasure of God that (besides all that may be gained by reading, and studying, and preaching) I should learn and teach obedience by the things that I suffer. The holy fire is not to be fetched for you, out of such a flint as I am, without smiting.

Not long before these strokes descended upon us, it pleased God marvellously to quicken our hearts (both mine and my wife's) and to stir up in us most earnest desires after himself. Now that he has taken our children, we pray that he will he draw us into freer and fuller communion with himself, blessed be his holy name!

I trust the Lord has done what he has done in wisdom, and faithfulness, and dear love. I trust that in taking these pleasant things from me, he exercises and expresses the same tender affection to me, as I now express towards my children in mourning for the loss of them. I desire, with Ephraim,'to bemoan myself,' etc. Jer. 31:18, 19. O that I might hear the Lord answering me as he did ver. 20! ['I will surely have mercy on him, says the Lord.'] It is right to say to God, 'We have endured chastisement, we will not offend; what we see not, teach us; and if we have done iniquity, we will do so no more.' Though we cannot reproach ourselves with any known way of disobedience, we know there is enough in us to justify his repeated strokes. God knows much more.

My desire is that no one may be overly dismayed at what has happened to us; and let no man by any means be offended. Who may say to the Lord, 'What are you doing?' I can say from my heart, though what is come upon us is very dreadful and amazing, nevertheless I consent unto the will of God that it is good. Does not the goldsmith cast his metal into the furnace? And you husbandmen, do you not cause the flail to pass over your grain, not that you hate your wheat, but because you desire pure bread? Had our children been insolent when we corrected them, we could not have borne it; but, poor hearts, they honoured us; how much rather should we be subject to the Father of spirits, and live!

You know that, nine years ago, I was in a desolate condition -without father, without mother, without wife, without children: but what a father, and mother, and wife have been bestowed upon me, and are still continued, though my children are taken away. And, above all, although I cannot deny but that it pierces my very heart to call to remembrance the voice of my dear children, calling 'father, father!' a voice now not heard: yet I bless God it does far more abundantly refresh me and cause me to rejoice to hear the Lord continually calling to me, 'My son, my son! My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.'

And blessed be God that does not ignore the anguish of the afflicted, nor hide his face from him. It was the consideration that God had sanctified and glorified himself, by striking an holy awe and dread of his majesty into the hearts of his people, that made Aaron hold his peace: and if the Lord will glorify himself by my family, by these awful strokes upon me, quickening parents unto their duty, and awakening their children to seek after the Lord, I shall desire to be content, though my name be cut off. I beseech you be earnest with the Lord for us, that he would keep us from sinning against him; and that he would teach us to sanctify his name. Although our dear branches have left us, yet that he that has promised to be with his children in six troubles and in seven will not forsake us. My heart truly would be consumed, and would even die within me, except that the good will of him that dwelt in the burning bush, and his good word of promise, are my trust and stay.


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