Funerals, the Death of Children and the Stone-Campbell Movement

Today I attended the funeral of Ty Osman in Nashville, TN. Ty, a Harding student, was killed in a car accident last week while on Spring Break. The rehersal of his life, his hope and his character was moving, inspirational and hopeful.

As I sat in the lobby I could not see but I could hear. The whole experience was triggering for me. I remembered Joshua’s funeral. I remembered my grief journey over the past 250 months. I remembered Joshua. I felt sad but at the same time hopeful. I can lament and praise at the same time, and usually in that order just like many of the Psalms.

Since coming home I have reflected on the personal history of some of my favorite Stone-Campbell spiritual forebearers.

Alexander Campbell.  On September 4, 1847, Campbell’s ten-year old son–Wickilffe–died in a drowning accident while Alexander was travelling in the British Isles. But this was not his only loss. Of fourteen children, nine had died by 1848–three of them in infancy. Here is most immediate reflection on the death of Wickliffe (Millennial Harbinger [December 1848], 679):

My emotions may be by a few more easily imagined than I could express them. But God’s ways cannot be traced. As it was when he led Israel out of Egypt, so it is still, concerning which teh Psalmist of Israel has said, ‘Thy way was in the sea, and they path in the great waters and thy foosteps were not perceived.” Ps. lxxvii.19….I was never afraid of evil tidings. But in this case he thought good to take to himself the choicest lamb from my flock, and has not revealed to me the reason why. But he is too wise to err, and too kind causelessly to afflict the children of men. May our affections never be unduly placed on any thing on earth; but as those we love both in the flesh and in the Lord are taken to himself, may our affections be more placed on things above and less on things on earth!

James A. Harding.  He outlived five of his nine children as well as his first wife–two of his children died before their first birthday. On August 11, 1906 his youngest living son David, at the age of thirteen, died of some kind of heart damage after playing baseball one afternoon. This death was particularly difficult for Harding since David dreamed of becoming a Bible School president one day, just like his father (Sears, Eyes of Jehovah, pp. 213-214).  The Sunday before his death they had sung “Anywhere with Jesus,” and now Harding thought–agreeing with his wife–that God had “taken him to heaven to teach and train these little ones” (“David Allen Harding,” Christian Leader and the Way 20.34 [21 August 1906], 8-9).  After David’s death, Harding wrote several articles on where the souls of God’s children go in death and whether they are conscious. He concluded that it was “very clear that God’s child, when he leaves the body, goes home to the Lord,” and he then commented, “This is a thought full of sweetness and delight to me” (“Death and Life,” Christian Leader and the Way 22.42 [20 October 1908], 8-9). Despite his sufferings, he still counseled people to pray in this way:

We should pray to God to give us whatever is best for us, wealth or poverty, honor or humiliation, health or sickness, life or death; being sure that whatever he gives to his dutiful child will be a blessing; resting in the faith that for all that we sacrifice or suffer for him we may expect a hundredfold reward, even in this present time.

David Lipscomb. Zellner Lipscomb was born to David and Magret on September 23, 1863 but lived only nine months on June 26, 1864.  His father and mother, living in Nashville, crossed the North/South battle lines to bury him in Maury County (see the story in Robert E. Hooper, Crying in the Wilderness, pp. 83-84).  The Lipscombs never had any other children. David had “hoped to rasie [Zellner] up to work for the Lord,” he once remarked to T. B. Larimore, and now he would “have to work all the harder” (T. B. Larimore, “David Lipscomb,” Christian Standard 54 [22 December 1917], 391). The hurt ran deep and even thirty years later Lipscomb was known to display public grief at the thought of Zellner’s death. Despite this grief and the ravages of a worn-torn Middle Tennessee where Lipscomb lost 2/3 of his possessions, Lipscomb’s trust in God’s providence shaped his understanding of life and death (“Providence–Special and General,” Gospel Advocate 10 [21 January 1869], 49-50):

All the events connected witht our lives are more completely under his guidance and direction, and are more fully controlled and overruled by him than were those of any other people in the world…The failure to recognize God’s hand in the events that befall us, causes us to complain, whine, repine over the misfortunes–as we consider them–of life, and to indulge in bitter, wicked, envious thoughts toward others, and to live in anxiety and dread as to the prsent and the future.

One may not agree with all the language that these spiritual ancestors employ, but one must respect their faith, trust and commitment. They are witness to the endurance and power of faith.

May God have mercy.

5 Responses to “Funerals, the Death of Children and the Stone-Campbell Movement”

  1.   roguecampbellite Says:

    What a moving thing to read, and comforting too. A good friend of mine lost his baby boy a few years back, and I wanted so much for him to embrace the hope that his child is with the Lord.

    Today, I visited an exhibition by the genocide awareness project that has photographs of aborted fetuses…little guys with hands and feet not much bigger than a quarter. It is horrifying to think of the 100,000 or more murdered fetuses each year, but I find it comforting that those children are now with God and completed in His love.

    How great our Saviour and Lord is!

  2.   mac Says:

    John Mark, CEW Dorris buried his little girl, and wrote about her death in his paper, The Bible Student. I blogged about it some time ago:

    All grace and peace to you, my brother and friend!

  3.   Patti Summers Says:

    Moving and fascinating. I’m intrigued by Lipscomb’s vague reference to God’s control over his family’s life (or over people in Middle Tennessee? Americans? Those in the 19th century more than previous eras?) being in some way more specific than God’s hand over other people in the world. Might this be attributed to the idea of God’s sovereign hand in the Civil War as retribution for slavery? Insufficient context, but makes me want to read more.

    As someone who has also lost a child, on my spiritual journey I’ve been impressed by the fact that many Restoration Movement Christians seem to have real difficulty assigning God complete sovereignty over the world. Many of us will grant that he determines outcomes that are considered blessings, but want to remove him from any active position when events produce sorrow for us. For a Calvinist there is no leap. It’s a foregone conclusion that God’s hand is in the loss of a child. For a free will member of the church of Christ, in a way, I find grief is more theologically complicated.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Thanks for sharing, Patti. When little is given to sovereignty, our lament is often about chance and misfortune. When too much is given to sovereignty, we might move too quickly through lament to some kind of passive acceptance without grieving. Sovereignty locates our life in the acts of God and lament questions, doubts and struggles through that trust to submit before God’s work in the world. It is a difficult struggle which can be short-changed if there is no correlation in our theology between sovereignty and human freedom. Blessings.

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