Is there anything as painful as the death of a child?

Only parents who have suffered such a loss can tell what agony they experienced when they buried their son or daughter, or what anguish they endure as they continue to lament everything they have lost and everything that might have been.

Robert Dabney was a Southern Presbyterian pastor.  He and his wife had six children – all boys. In 1855 tragedy struck his household. His second son died of diphtheria in his arms.  Diphtheria is a terrible disease of the throat – where your throat slowly swells to where you can’t talk – then swells more to where you can’t breathe.  Dabney held his small boy in his arms and helplessly watched him die of suffocation.

The next month he was away at presbytery (a church meeting) and he received a telegram that his next oldest son, Bobby, was ill with the same disease.  Dabney wrote: “We used prompt measures and sent early for the doctor who didn’t think his condition was dangerous.  But he got gradually worse through the week.  And on Sunday he got very ill and his symptoms were alarming. He died on Monday.”  Dabney and his wife had lost two out of (at that time) their 3 children…within a few weeks.

Dabney went on: “It was not so much that I could not give my darling up, but that I saw him suffer such pangs and then fall under the grasp of the cruel destroyer, while I was impotent for his help. The mighty wings of the angel of death nestled over our heart’s treasures.  And his black shadow broods over our home.  It shakes the heart with a shuddering terror and a horror of great darkness.  To see my dear little child ravaged, crushed and destroyed.  Turning his beautiful liquid eyes to me and his weeping mother for help after his gentle voice could no longer be heard.  And to feel myself as helpless to give aid…this tears my heart with anguish.”

What hope did Dabney have amidst such pain and sorrow?  He wrote: “Our parting isn’t for long.  This spoiled and ruined body will be raised and all its ravished beauties more than repaired.  Our little boy, we hope and trust, is now a ransomed spirit.  This is a hope inexpressible and full of glory.  As I stand by the little grave and think of the poor ruined clay within, that was a few days ago so beautiful, my heart bleeds.  But as I ask: where is the soul whose beams gave that clay all its beauty and preciousness?  I triumph.  Has it not already begun, with an infant voice, the praises of my Savior?  He is in Christ’s heavenly house and under His guardian love.  Now I feel, as never before, the blessedness of the redeeming grace and divine blood of Jesus, which have ransomed my poor babe from all the sin and death he inherited through me.

Dabney could triumph in his suffering.  He could find himself victorious in the midst of unshakeable grief because Christ has been raised from the dead.  He knew a day is coming when Christ will say to his people: rise and weep no more!

Death indeed is an enemy…but it is a defeated enemy for those who trust in Christ by faith alone.  “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

-Quoted from Phillip Ryken, Luke (Reformed Expository Commentary).

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