Elizabeth Prentiss was a nineteenth-century American author, perhaps best known for the most famed of her novels, Stepping Heavenward. A pastor’s daughter and, later, a pastor’s wife, she struggled for most of her adult life with debilitating health. Reflecting on this affliction, she wrote, “I see now that to live for God, whether one is allowed ability to be actively useful or not, is a great thing, and that it is a wonderful mercy to be allowed even to suffer, if thereby one can glorify him.” She lived to be only 59.
In 1852, within a period of three months, Elizabeth lost her second and third children—one a newborn and the other aged four. Wracked with grief, she wrote in her journal that her “bleeding, fainting, broken heart” was her “gift” to God. It was from this experience of sorrow that she penned her famous poem, “More Love to Thee,” which was later set to music by William Doane and published as a hymn.
Elizabeth wrote the four stanzas in a single evening but showed it to no one for thirteen years. When it was published as a hymn in 1870, it became widely and enduringly popular.
Let sorrow do its work, come grief or pain;
sweet are thy messengers, sweet their refrain,
when they can sing with me:
More love, O Christ, to thee!
Yesterday, we considered Jesus’ great love for us. Elizabeth understood that Christ’s great love for her must be returned as great love to him. Since Christ’s love for us does not wane when he sends affliction, our love for him should persist even in affliction. Elizabeth considered the grief and pain God’s “messengers” whose message was “sweet.” She did not allow these “messengers” to diminish her love for Christ.
Too often, we crave earthly joy and seek peace and rest, but Elizabeth wrote, “Now thee alone I seek, give what is best.” She realised that God’s best is not necessarily earthly joy, peace, and rest—though eternal joy, rest, and peace await Christ’s faithful disciples. She knew that pain and affliction were great teachers. She understood the truth of which Isaiah wrote: “Though the LORD give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher” (30:20). A little later, he promised that, despite present affliction, “the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day when the LORD binds up the brokenness of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow” (v. 26).
Elizabeth knew that, to her “latest breath,” she would “whisper [Christ’s] praise” and that her “parting cry” would be, “More love to thee, O Christ.” She would not allow present affliction to diminish her love because she knew that, for all eternity, her affliction and sorrows would be forgotten.
As you evaluate the bread of adversity and the water of affliction that God has sent, will you remember that God will one day heal the very wounds that he has inflicted? Will you therefore sing with Elizabeth, “This is my earnest plea: More love, O Christ, to thee, more love to thee, more love to thee”?