Monday, August 21, 2006

Isaac Backus on Death and Dying

Isaac Backus (1724-1806) was happily married to his wife Susannah for over 50 years. Among his wife’s final words recorded by Backus in his journal was a conversation she had with an Elder Rathbun while she lay on her death bed. When he asked her what he should pray for, she replied: "I am not so much concerned about living or dying, as to have my will swallowed up in the will of God."

The union of Isaac and Susannah yielded nine children (their names: Hannah, Nathan, Isaac, Eunice, Susannah, Lois, Lucy, Simon, and Sibel).

The youngest daughter, Sibel, died in her 20th year after a long illness. Backus’ journal entry of March 20, 1788 recording her death reveals his fatherly concern for her spiritual well being, his grief at her apparent lack of a conversion experience, and a firm trust in God’s sovereignty over her life:

She wasted away very fast with, with ulcers in the stomach, which caused much pain; yet we never heard a murmuring word from her mouth. She had a very deep sense of sin upon her mind, and distressing fears that she had not true convictions, because her heart was so vile and hard. She once requested that we might have a clear sight of God’s righteousness, as to give up her all into his hands. At another time, I asked her if she had such a view of a righteous and gracious God, as to be willing to give up her soul and her all into his hands? Her answer was: ‘I think I have.’ And she gave a like answer to a like question, a few hours before her death, March 23rd at half-past four o’clock, P. M. I preached twice, and then came and saw my dear daughter pass through the dark valley without such a manifestation of light as I longed for; which grieved my heart. But God is wise and righteous, and hath done us no wrong. So far from it, he hath given us, for twenty years, her life, and for the most part of that time, her useful labors, in such an obedient manner as scarce ever to need a reproof from us.

Source: Alvah Hovey, The Life and Times of Isaac Backus, pp. 308-10.

Can you imagine a father today writing such an account of the death of his 20 year old daughter? Can you imagine a father attempting honestly to evaluate the spiritual condition of his child in such circumstances and feeding himself no false hope of her conversion? Can you imagine a father in such circumstances who does not rail against the goodness of God (a la Malachi 2:17: "Where is the God of justice?") but confesses, "But God is wise and righteous, and hath done us no wrong"?

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