Samuel Rutherford’s Letter to a Christian Lady on the Death of Her Daughter

As I closed the Lord’s Day reading The Letters of Samuel Rutherford, I came across this gem. In it he beautifully explains how to view the death of a loved one who falls asleep in Jesus. Yet his words apply when we lose anything we value dearly. We are but sojourners in this world, and anything we call our own has been lent to us for only a little while. It is the Lord’s prerogative how long we get to keep it. May the Lord, through the words of this 16th century Scottish Puritan, comfort the hearts of those who suffer. (This letter, which I have modernized a bit, well rewards a slow, and a second, reading.)

“Mistress – My love in Christ remembered to you. I was indeed sorrowful at my departure from you, especially since you were in such heaviness after your daughter’s death. Yet I do persuade myself, you know that the weightiest end of the cross of Christ that is laid upon you lies upon your strong Savior; for Isaiah says, ‘In all your afflictions He is afflicted’ (Isa. 63:9). O blessed Second who suffers with you! and glad may your soul be even to walk in the fiery furnace with one like unto the Son of Man, who is also the Son of God. Courage! up your heart! When you do tire, He will bear both you and your burden (Psalm 55:22). Yet a little while and you shall see the salvation of God.

Remember of what age your daughter was, and that just so long was your lease of her. If she was eighteen, nineteen, or twenty years old, I know not; but sure I am, seeing her term was come, and your lease run out, you can no more justly quarrel your great Superior for taking His own at His just term day, than a poor farmer can complain that his master takes a portion of his own land to himself when his lease is expired. Good mistress, if you would not be content that Christ would hold from you the heavenly inheritance which is made yours by His death, shall not that same Christ think hardly of you if you refuse to give Him your daughter willingly, who is a part of his inheritance and conquest? I pray the Lord to give you all your own, and to grace you with patience to give God His also. He is an ill debtor who pays that which he hath borrowed with a grudge. Indeed, that long loan of such a good daughter, an heir of grace, a member of Christ (as I believe), deserves more thanks at your Creditor’s hands, than that you should gloom and murmur when He craves but His own. I believe you would judge them to be but thankless neighbors who would pay you a sum of money after this manner.

But what? Do you think her lost, when she is but sleeping in the bosom of the Almighty? Think her not absent who is in such a friend’s house. Is she lost to you who is found to Christ? If she were with a dear friend, although you should never see her again, your care for her would be but small. Oh, now, is she not with a dear Friend? and gone higher, upon a certain hope that you shall, in the Resurrection, see her again, when (be you sure) she shall neither be hectic nor consumed in body? You would be sorry either to be, or to be esteemed, an atheist; and yet, not I, but the Apostle, thinks those to be hopeless atheists who mourn excessively for the dead (I Thess. 4:13). But is not a challenge on my part. I do speak this only fearing your weakness; for your daughter was a part of yourself; and, therefore, nature in you, being as it were cut and halved, will indeed be grieved. But you have to rejoice, that when a part of you is on earth, a great part of you is glorified in heaven. Follow her, but envy her not; for indeed it is self-love in us that makes us mourn for them that die in the Lord. Why? Because for them we cannot mourn, since they are never happy till they be dead; therefore we mourn for our own private respect. Take heed, then, that in showing your affection in mourning for your daughter, you be not, out of self-affection, mourning for yourself.

Consider what the Lord is doing in it. Your daughter is plucked out of the fire, and she rests from her labors; and your Lord, in that, is trying you, and casting you in the fire. Go through all the fires to your rest; and now remember that the eye of God is upon the bush burning and not consumed; and He is gladly content that such a weak woman as you should send Satan away, frustrated of his design. Now honor God, and shame the strong roaring lion, when you seem weakest. Should such a one as you fain the day of adversity? Call to mind the days of old. The Lord yet lives. Trust in Him, although He should slay you. Faith is exceeding charitable, and believes no evil of God. Now is the Lord laying, in the one scale of the balance, your making conscience of submission to His gracious will, and in the other, your affection and love to your daughter. Which of the two will you then choose to satisfy? Be wise, then; and as I trust you love Christ better than a sinful woman, pass by your daughter, and kiss the Lord’s rod.

Men do lop the branches off their trees round about, to the end that they may grow up high and tall. The Lord has this way lopped your branch in taking from you many children, to the end you should grow upward, like one of the Lord’s cedars, setting your heart above, where Christ is, at the right hand of the Father. What is next, but that your Lord cut down the stock after He has cut the branches? Prepare yourself; you are nearer your daughter this day than you were yesterday. While you prodigally spend time in mourning for her, you are speedily posting after her. Run your race with patience. Let God have His own; and ask of Him, instead of your daughter which He has taken from you, the daughter of faith, which is patience; and in patience possess your soul. Lift up your head: you do not know how near your redemption does draw.

Thus recommending you to the Lord, who is able to establish you, I rest, your loving and affectionate friend in the Lord Jesus. S. R.

(Taken from The Letters of Samuel Rutherford, 1984 hardback Banner of Truth edition, Letter 2)

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