THE WIDOW OF MAI BY GEORGE MOBERLY, D.C.L.

St, Luke vii. 11. And it came to pass the day after that Jesus went into a city called ain ; and many of His disciples went with Him, and much people, 12. How, when He wets come nigh unto the gate of the city, behold there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow ; and much people of the city was with her, rpHIS narrative, brethren, tells us of one of those -*- precious incidents which bring God into the very midst of us, and into the very heart of our common life of joys and sorrows. We all know and believe that the great God of Heaven and earth is near us at all times, that He knows and allows all the things that happen to us, that He sees and takes note of all our thoughts, as well as of our words spoken and our deeds done, — we aU know that, no doubt; and I trust we think of it often, and, by His grace come to live in the perpetual consciousness of it, feeling, as it were, His eye upon us.

146 THE WIDOW OF MAI looking US through and through, at every moment of our lives. But though we know all this, it comes less home to our feeling, and seems to strike our imagination less

forcibly than to read how Jesus Christ, God, the Eternal Son of God, Immanuel, moved among men, felt as a man their sorrows, felt as a man then* temptations or sufferings, mingled in the very same scenes as those which we see, God indeed, but Man also : true Man in the true weakness of man's body, and the true sympathies of a man's soul, though Himself the Eternal Son of the Most High God, by Whom Heaven and earth were made. It comes, I say, less home to our feelings to know of the Almighty God invisible, and known only by our faith, than to think of God shedding human tears of private love to witness the deep grief of the sisters of Lazarus His friend, — of God weeping with the bitter tears of patriotic or public love over the doomed city of Jerusalem, — of God, sitting among His faithful disciples, and bidding them as His last command to continue to eat that bread and drink that cup of life in remembrance of Him, — of God, stretching out His loving arms of mercy upon the Cross, and drawing all men visibly unto Him, by giving His life to be a sacrifice for their sins ; or, to come closer to the particular nan-ative of the

THE WIDOW OF AI 147 Gospel for this day, of God, — meeting the sad company that issued from the gate of the little city of ain, and with the true heart of a man, with the voice of a man, with the touch of a man, with the deep compassion of a man veiling the almighty power of God, bidding the widowed mother weep not. It is not difficult to realize the scene. The little city, or, as we should call it, the country town, with its gate and walls. As the travellers, a company of thirteen men on foot, draw near, they see a funeral procession coming from the gate to bury their dead outside of their

city, according to their practice. There was but a single gate to ain, — that which opeiis on the rough hillside on its downward slope to the plain. The corpse, swathed round very tightly with strips of linen, which first bound the limbs one by one, and then altogether, the head being separately covered, lay upon an open bier, which was carried by the nearest friends, and such as desired to do honour to the dead. Behind it came the widowed mother; the widowed mother just bereft of her only son ; — both she and he, it would seem, well known and respected in the little town. She, — feeling more bitterly alone, no doubt, for friends that pressed officious round, — the friends, — a large company, — much people, — full of tender sympathy, — remembering her husband, remembering well her poor boy, much touched with her

148 THE WIDOW OF AI double loss, and complete loneliness, — ^intending, at least, all that was kind, — and she appreciating their kindness even while, it may be, she might have rather desired to be alone. The elements of the scene, brethren, are well known to us alL They are not confined to that rough hillside, or that little city gate. They are as universal as men and women are. They are to be found wherever men and women live, and fathers and mothers live in honourable marriage, and sons and daughters are in such honourable marriage bom, and live and die in love and peace with one another. The procession comes down the slope, up which, as I said, the thirteen wayfarers were toiling : when one of the thirteen, not to be distinguished from the rest by any difference as of dress or appearance, but plainly having authority of a strange and wonderful kind, moving forward from his company and speaking to the sad mother as she walked by the side of the body overpowered with tears, had compassion on her and said

" Wee^ notr It was no common interruption. The people felt it was not. It might have seemed so if he had been a common man. It might have seemed like an ordinary expression of a passenger's attempt at comfort. But they felt at once that this was no ordinary case. The bearers stood still at once. The procession halted. The

THE WIDOW OF AI 149 mother, bowed as she was to the ground, lifted her head. There was surely something among them very wonderful, — more than human, — something that went to all their hearts, — surprising and cheering them. And He came, — came quite close, and touched the bier, — they that bare it were standing still, — and He said, "Young man, I say unto thee, Arise; and he that was dead, sat up, and began to speak." Can you not imagine the mixed fear and wonder, the awe and delight of the people, as tbey pressed to unwind the swathing bands, and loose his limbs, hardly believing the truth of what their eyes saw and their ears now heard? And He delivered him to his mother. He gave him back loosened from the bonds of death, well, no doubt, in health and strong, restored not only from the death which had held him, but also from the disease which had killed Jiim, and gave him back to his motber; to her who loved him best and leaned upon him most ; to her with whose grief He had sympathized, not more, we may well believe, than now He sympathized with hei joy. He gave her boy back into his mother's arms. Brethren, these incidents of our Lord's life and goodness are inexpressibly tender. Even if we had no more to do with them than to read of them as of things long past by, and only as indications of the true human love

and sympathy of Him Who is our Lord in heaven, and

ISO THE WIDOW OF AI will hereafter be our Judge, tliey would be unspeakably precious to us, as assuring us of His tender human love, which is so great a part of our stay and comfort in the midst of all earthly sorrow and distress. But I venture to say confidently that we have a great deal more to do with them than this. I venture to say that He who stayed the funeral procession at the gate of ain, who bade the weeping mother stay her tears, and gave her back her son, — is not less truly present at our funeral processions as we bear the bodies of our dead at the gate of our own churchyard, — is not less tender to the mothers weeping for their children, to bid them check their tears, — gives them no less certain assurance that He will, not indeed in the flesh, but when the days of the flesh are done, restore them again to one another. I venture to say, not only of this incident, but of every such incident in the life of our blessed Lord and Saviour, that it is meant to be a picture and a pattern of that which He is, and that which He says, and that which He does in all the like cases to His people in the world. As immortal, as eternal as Himself, are the words that He spake and the deeds that He did during the three years of His earthly ministry among men. The same everlasting Lord, God and Man, God in power, Man in love, God in mercy, Man in sympathy, is with our weeping sisters as at Bethany, with our distressed fathers as

THE WIDOW OF MAI 151 on His coining down from the Mount of Transfiguration, or at the house of Jairus the ruler of the synagogue,

with our poor afflicted women, as He was with the poor creature that came behind Him in the press and thought to steal a cure unperceived by touching the hem of His garment, — ^with our widows and our bereaved mothers as He was with the poor widow woman to whom lie gave back her boy on the rocky slope of ain. Yes, brethren, it is most true ; and it is most consoling. But we must not be too hasty. We must not administer our comfort without adding to it one necessary caution. Eeligion is not all softness. God is most merciful. Christ is most loving. But is God merciful to them who despise His mercy ? Is Christ loving, and will He be loving to the end, to those who will have none of His love, and reject His law ? You know well that He will not; and speaking as His faithful ambassador and priest, I must not mislead you, as if He merely loved with a sort of feeble and undiscriminating love, sinner and saint, penitent and impenitent, faithful and unfaithful, all alike, as if there were no difference, as if there were no terms nor conditions attached to His most free and loving mercy. Let us come closer to the tale of the poor widow of whom we have been speaking. I have said that as Christ comforted her, so He does still comfort mothers

152 THE WIDOW OF AI afflicted in like manner. Most true — ^but stay a moment — they must be faithful mothers, Christian mothers, earnest religious mothers. What shall I say if the poor weeping mother among us became a mother against the law of God as well as against the law of man ? if the child she weeps for is the memorial of unchaste passion and notorious sin ? May I say to her. He who bade the poor widow weep not at the gate of ain, has sent

me to say to you too. Weep not, for I will deliver your son to you again ? May I say so to her — is it not saying peace to her when there is no peace — ^unless her sin be first probed, her repentance for her sin real, her sorrowing faith, like that of the poor penitent woman in the Gospel, shewn by her much love and her many tears ? Is this not a sore, a very sore affliction among us, brethren ? Sore to the heart, very sore to the touch : should I, think you. be faithful to the Lord who bids me speak, or faithful to the loving Lord who spoke these words of love to the widow of ain, if, out of timidity or false delicacy, I refrained from touching it ? Believe me, such grief has no comfort, unless there be a very true and deep repentance, proving itself by a life of holy and earnest religion. But again, the poor widow of ain had lost her only boy. I dare to say, brethren, I dare to say with con-

THE WIDOW OF AI 153 fidence, that lie was a good and religious boy ; and what . is more, I dare to say with confidence that after he was raised from the grave and restored to his mother, he . was a good and religious boy still. I venture to afiSrm that Christ did not raise him from the dead to lead a life of sin, and to be lost at the last. And the comfort which Christ gave to that mother is still the comfort which He gives, and bids us who are His ambassadors to give in His name, to the bereaved mothers among you. But must not the comfort go with the goodness ? Does the sweet comfort go with every mother who has lost her child ? or does it not only belong to those who have bred up their children in holy God-fearing ways ? Are we at liberty to say to the poor mother who is weeping at the grave of a son who has been leading a

bad life, an unclean, a dishonest, an idle, or in any way an irreligious life, without repentance. Weep not, poor bereaved mother, Christ will give you back your boy in a better life ? Can we say so ? Is it true ? Does this lesson come out of the Lord's blessed words of mercy at the gate of ain ? You know it does not. Let us not deceive ourselves so far as to think it does. o : we all know quite well, that is, in our hearts we know, however much in our lives we are tempted to forget it, that the mercy of God in Christ, the precious inestimable mercy of God in Christ, belongs to those and

154 THE WIDOW OF AI to those only who repent of their sins, who believe with all their hearts and who obey. The ofler is as free, as open as the air of heaven. o sin is so heavy, no conscience so bnrthened, but if it come to Christ in penitence, in faith and in obedience, He will welcome it, love it, restore it, save it. But we must come in penitence, in faith, and obedience, or we have nothing to do with that love or that mercy. It is not offered to those who forget God, who live in sin, or who cover up their sin. It is not offered to those who sin on easily and carelessly, doing as they please, never trying by earnest prayer and Holy Communion to cherish the gift of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. But, if we will repent, if, however sad and melancholy have been our falls into sin, we will yet repent while God gives us time, do not doubt for one moment that God will hear our contrite and earnest prayer. There is no sound that reaches Heaven so swiftly or certainly as even the feeblest voice of repenting prayer. We desire, we hope to meet again when this world is over. It is the ordinary topic of Christian comfort

when Christians are called upon to part with those whom they love upon the earth, that in Christ they shall meet in a better place. Well 1 but never forget, brethren, never for a moment forget that that blessed comfort presupposes that both he who is taken away, and the

THE WIDOW OF AI 155 survivor who accepts the comfort, are penitent and faithful It is most true of them ; most true, most blessedly true of them: but of those who die impenitent and unfaithful it is not true. The young man of Kain was given back to his • mother's love. It was for a time only. After a while, he fell sick again, and died a second- time; he and his widowed mother both. Our sick friends are sometimes given back to our prayers. I think that when a child of ours recovers from a severe and dangerous illness the responsibility of a parent's care seems to be deepened. Had he been taken then, in infancy, in innocence, he probably was in the love and favour of God. Oh,if he should be restored to health in answer to our prayers, and then lost after all — oh, if the happpy mother receiving back her child, should then neglect to breed him up in all good discipline, in all purity, in all religion ! Think of the terrible woe, if such a mercy which spared the earthly life of a child should in the end lead to the loss of his heavenly life, and both child and parent mourn for ever over the sad blindness and sin which had turned what seemed the greatest of blessings into the heaviest of all possible evils! But if we will repent : — if we wiU be in earnest : if we will pray earnestly, and submit our secret hearts and

156 THE WIDOW OF AI wills to the sanctifying Spirit of the most High God, then let us be assured that He who showed His compassion and His power at the gate of Kain is not less with us in our sorrows. We may give our darlings to the grave. But our hearts know they must not break. Why should they ? Does not faith lift them up ? Does not the Holy Spirit who gives the faith, show them the Saviour ? Do thev not feel in their heart of hearts the assured certainty that they shall meet again in Heaven ? not as the boy of Kain was given back to his mother for a few short years and a second death, but for endless life that knows no further parting, life and glory with Christ eternal in the heavens. Only, brethren, let this word ring clearly in all our ears. Those blessed promises are for the penitent, the faithful, the obedient : and they are for none besides.

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