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yew-tree, holding converse with those who will no more gladden my sight until, in glorified bodies, they arise from the dust. I cannot but feel a beauty in the dispensation so grievous to flesh, so painful and humbling to man. full term of years allotted to mortality,+if the young and the strong were never cut off from among us, the aged only borne away, coming to the grave like shocks of corn fully ripe—we should lose a powerful and a precious link, ill spared, between our dust-loving souls and the regions of immortality. It is when some youthful companion is snatched from the endeared circle and wafted aloft beyond our ken, that we learn to look, as it were, into the heights and depths of invisibility, and to realize what of all things we are least disposed to realize. I visit some well-known spot, where all is, perhaps, as it was ten or twenty years ago: my thoughts cannot but revert to the time, and to the individuals then surrounding me. Some of those —oh, how often the dearest and the brightest of all!—are gone, passed altogether away from sublunary scenes: but from my heart they cannot pass away: and knowing that they still exist, how can I but follow them, in tender thought, to their mysterious abode, rendered more than half a home to me by becoming the dwelling-place of those so dear. It is true that all reminiscences of the departed are not thus sweet. Over some, an awful darkness hangs; for I know not that they were Christ's, and therefore I dare not follow their track beyond the confines of this material world. Yet, such is the merciful dispensation of divine grace, that I think the mind of the believer is generally, after a short and bitter struggle, enabled to acquiesce in so leaving them until the day of the revelation of all things. The heart that is savingly united to Jesus is enabled to divorce all that has finally rejected him, though not without a pang of lingering fondness, that would be insupportable if permitted long to abide. It, however, gives place to the vivid, the cherished feeling which clings to the memory of the blessed—the dead who have died in the Lord—the souls that have flown as the doves to their windows, and nestled in the bosom of redeeming love.
If each lived out the
“THE chain of events” is an expression familiar to almost every one; it is often employed by those who deny the especial hand of divine providence in ordering the affairs of men. If I showed one of these persons a material chain, assuring him that the links of iron, silver, or gold, were indebted to no fashioning tool, but shaped themselves, and casually fell into that connected form as they issued from the mine, he would rightly think me a fool, or conclude that I considered him as one. Yet, “good fortune,” “bad fortune,” “lucky coincidences,” “evil chances,” and such like, are heads under which he would coolly arrange any series of perfect links that I could point out, in the course of an eventful life. Nay, he would smile at my fanaticism, is I ventured to suggest that in a work so beautifully adapted to an ultimate end, the hand of a governing power was perceptible in every stage.
What a dark and formless chaos must any human mind present, where the spirit of God has not moved, nor the voice of Omnipotence proclaimed “Let there be light!” Comparing his own crooked and perplexed course with that of some acquaintance who, acknowledging God in all his ways, has found the promise sure that he would direct his paths the unbelieving soul repines at its own “ill fortune,” and marvels, if it do not murmur, at the “good luck” attending another's prayerful undertakings. Let but the daybeam find admittance, and how changed will be the scene! Past events will assume a new character, each will be found to have formed a link, exquisitely fitted and adjusted by divine skill: and the hand so long unseen, so tardily acknowledged, will be recognized as still shaping the succeeding portions, or rather unfolding what had long been fashioned secretly, until the last bright circlet is found to rest on his eternal throne.
We may adopt Archbishop Leighton's beautiful illustration of a chain, which he describes as having its first and last links —election and final salvation—“up in heaven, in God's own hand;” the middle one, which he says is effectual calling, being “let down to earth, into the hearts of his children; and they laying hold on it, have sure hold on the other two, for no power can sever them.” Then, the events ...hat lead to that calling, and those who follow it, even to the final consummation and bliss of God’s people in heaven, may be considered as so many connected and connecting links, not one of which but bears evidence of the Master's hand. How often does Satan exert all the skill of his infernal mechanism to hammer out an additional fetter for his blind and hopeless captive, already fast bound in misery and iron, which is laid hold on by the divine Alchymist, and changed into a golden link in the wondrous chain of providential mercies, destined to form the subject of an everlasting song of praise in the mouth of that ransomed sinner | Events that wrung my heart with piercing anguish, and of which I could not but say they were the strokes of an enemy, I am enabled to look back upon, with so deep a sense of their value and importance, that although I may not dare to say the work could not have been perfect without them, yet I do thankfully acknowledge them among the richest mercies. I can say it of every dispensation towards me, that God has wrought it into a link in that precious chain: and sweet indeed is the retrospect of by-gone days, when thus enlightened by the means of covenant mercy. My dumb boy once told me, very abruptly, that he had been thanking God for making him deas and dumb when he was very little. On my inquiring why, he chuckled, and expressed, in his simple way, a great deal of exultation, repeating that it was “very good.” At length he told me, not without a hint that he pitied my “doll-head” for failing to discover any thing so obvious, that having been taken regularly to mass, by his poor parents, he should, if he had been like other children, have committed the great sin of idolatry. However, he said, not being able to hear, he could only be made to kneel, cross himself, and hold up his hand towards the crucifix and images. When I inquired if he did not pray at all, at such times, with his heart, he repeated the word “pray” with a laugh, assuring me that he never
had felt the smallest respect for the objects before him: that he saw they were stone, wood, or paper, and as such regarded them. He added, that he had no idea what praying was, until he beheld us, at family worship, look up, and speak with so much reverence and love (describing it) to One whom we could not see. Then with lively joy, he repeated, “God is good —very good, God made little John deaf.” So great was his exultation in this thought, when only twelve years old, that he would laugh and jump, because, as he told me, it made the devil cry. I gained an interesting lesson; and following his example, endeavoured to number up the blessings contained in what the world would call my numerous misfortunes. It certainly showed me many beautiful links in the great chain of providential mercies, never before recognized as such. Among the ties that bound me to a par. ticular spot, one was pre-eminently strong and pure. Often do I recall it with fond regret, and dearly do I love to dwell on its remembered features. The circumstance was this:—The gospel having been totally withdrawn, or rather unjustifiably thrust out from the pulpit of my stated place of worship, and the message of reconciliation through the blood of the cross silenced all around us, I was induced to admit a few humble but pious neighbours, on the sabbath evenings of a long winter, to join with my family in the church service, and to hear a sermon read from old Flavel, or some other of that awakening school. Several children attended: and as they occupied too much room in my little cottage parlour, and were withal somewhat restless, I told them they must stay away in future: adding, that if any of them really desired to hear and pray, I would devote an hour in the earliest part of the Sunday afternoon to them. Good Friday following next after, half-adozen pretty little girls, leading two tiny boys, walked up to my door at four o'clock —I had stipulated for their previously attending church—and the spokeswoman, dropping a curtesy to the maid who opened it, said, “Please ma'am, to-day is like Sunday; and may we have a chapel to-day ?” I was from home, visiting a sick person, and on my return was rather startled to find how resolved my little neighbours were to establish their claim on “a chapel.” I set myself to prepare for it on Easter day, when more than a dozen assembled, to whom I read, and familiarly explained, a chapter, asked a few questions, offered a short prayer with them, and instead of a sermon, treated them with Cennick’s “Letter to little Children.” My congregation was certainly not very orderly: I had to pass an oblique censure on most of them, by commending one for steadiness and attention. But I was not disheartened; and the next Sunday brought me near twenty. From that time a task was commenced to which the Lord enabled me to devote myself for more than a year, sacrificing to it every other work. I had so full a party of these dear children weekly assembling that the largest room in my cottage would not contain more than half of them. I therefore divided them, having the girls first, from four to half-past five, and as soon as they were gone, the boys. It was a singular scene ! They belonged to the families of small trades-people, and the many individuals connected with a very large national establishment, hard by. Every one of them could read well, and our plan was remodelled to suit the demand of so large a number—above sixty—on the attention of one poor unassisted female. A long table, or rather several tables, being placed across the room from corner to corner, to afford the greatest possible length, and covered with a green cloth, benches, stools, and chairs were set round it to the best advantage, with a reserve of bibles for the very few who possessed none. The party being admitted and properly ranged, an introductory prayer was offered up, a hymn sung, and then a chapter given out, to be read verse by verse, each young person being questioned on it; and all that the teacher could communicate, in the way of illustration, inference, and application, most freely imparted. At the close, another hymn was sung, and a short thanksgiving concluded all. The sight was lovely, when the girls, in their neat Sunday frocks and caps, or ringlets (sor bonnets were laid aside) sat round this cheerful board, at a seast such as this world’s princes could not spread. They were quiet, modest, intel
ligent, and apt to learn. On departing, each received the gift of a tract; and time enough only for a hasty cup of coffee to be swallowed was suffered to elapse before the signal was given, and in rushed the boys. It is impossible to describe the wild eagerness of delight with which those sprightly boys would overleap the benches and secure each his assigned place. It required some determination to keep their spirits within due bounds, so inexpressibly dear to them was the work. Eight o'clock was the appointed hour for separating; but often have they coaxed their happy teacher for leave to sing “just one hymn more,” until the bell tolled nine. Many of them had fine voices, and were taught to accompany a splendid band in the church: their singing, therefore, spontaneous as it was, and with feelings, if not hearts, attuned to the occasion, was often exceedingly fine. Many a passer-by has crept in at the little gate, crossed the small garden, and laid his head among the roses that profusely covered the cottage wall, to listen while twenty or thirty clear young voices, led by a child of singular talent, breathed out some of our finest specimens of devotional melody. Commendations, rebukes, and tracts being suitably dealt out, away bustled the little congregation; and the Lord only knows how my spirit has been elated, while, from bodily exhaustion, I could scarcely walk across the room. Sometimes D. would come down on the Saturday night, and take the whole work into his hands, rejoicing in it, even as the boys did to receive his teaching: and there are some of those precious children now in heaven with him, singing a sweeter song than those in which they so loved to join below. Others there are, yet on earth, who will recognize in this faint outline the features of a scene most lovely in their eyes, and precious to their hearts. They will remember the little parlour, the long table, the wide rustic window, the clustering roses without, and the glowing countenances within. Let them breathe once more our ost-repeated prayer, that the seed there sown may yield a rich and abundant increase ! It was one of the severest of my trials to quit that simple cottage, to break up my darling school, and to leave those lambs in the wilderness. I recollect with what rebellious struggles my will at length submitted. I remember the last Sunday when, every piece of furniture being removed, and the house shut up, we opened it again for the sole purpose of once more enjoying our cherished privilege. It was a gloomy season, though summer smiled brightly upon us. The beautiful rose-tree which covered the cottage walls, and even ran over its roof, had suddenly withered, nobody knew why or how: but the garden was full of flowers, every one of which the dear children plucked and brought to me, with many tears and sobs, before they left it. It seemed a dispensation of almost unmixed severity to divorce me from that spot, endeared by many a recollection of those who never, never could revisit it again, and sanctified by a work so sweet, so holy. There had the dumb boy ripened for heaven; and thence had his happy spirit taken its flight. My Sunday pupils delighted in Jack, whose vigilant oversight of them, and inexorable firmness in reporting every case of misbehaviour, often tempted the merry boys to transgress, for the purpose of provoking his displeasure. And very touching it was to see the whole of them, with not a few of the girls attired in their best, and formed in procession, following on foot the carriage which bore the dumb boy's remains to their final resting-place. A four mile walk through melting snow, under a drizzling rain, on a comfortless day, was no slight proof of their grateful affection for one whose sorrow they strove thus to soothe; and none who witnessed Jack's funeral will ever forget the moment when those boys drew close around the open grave, and sung over the coffin their favourite hymn—
“Lo! he comes, with clouds descending.”
Dear children' my rebellion almost revives when I think of the bitterness of spirit with which I forsook them: yet it was a link, a bright link in my golden chain, for that reluctant movement brought me into a more important field, among the victims of popish delusion, to see some brands plucked from that terrific burning, when even on the verge of eternal flames. It was a strange transition, and most uncongenial; but I am bound to render
praises unto God for it. Neither was the former work unowned or unblessed: some instances occurred, which I may perhaps relate at another time; proving that the Lord was among us, in the Sabbathschool—or rather Bible-class, for there was no teaching, except from the word of God. I am deeply persuaded that a few hours thus devoted, by those who have no lack of means or opportunity to labour among the children of their humbler though respectable neighbours, would bring in a vast increase of mutual benefit, would bind in an endearing tie the different classes of society, and tend to glorify God by serving him in the gospel of his Son.
CHAP TER XW.
Autumn is peculiarly a season of retrospection. Custom has taught us to close our year in mid-winter; our natural feeling would suggest a different computation —would select the falling leaf, and failing sunbeam, as the appointed memento of man's frailty; and warn him, as he looks upon the rapidly changing scene, to make up his accounts with time, to set his house in order, and with redoubled diligence to work while day-light remains, seeing how rapidly the night approaches when he can work no longer. Mutation is the universal law in this changed and fallen world. Countries indeed there are, exempt from the dreary visitation of winter, skies ever bright, and flowers ever blooming: but in these the rending hurricane, the dreaded simoon, the frequent earthquake, the volcanic eruption, and the desolating pestilence, give more terrible note of that prevailing law than in our beautifully instructive clime, where the voice of admonition speaks to the con scious heart, “Behold, fond man,
See here thy pictured life: pass some few years,
Thy flowry spring, thy summer's ardent strength
The sober autumn fading into age,
And pale concluding winter comes at last And shuts the scene.”
I would not barter my country's mutable skies and ever-varying landscapes for those of any other land. I would not exchange this towering oak, that having put forth his tardy leaves the last of our forest trees, is even now preparing to shed them with his ripening acorns on the humid soil —no, I would not exchange the king of English vegetation for a whole grove of fat olives, or fragrant orange-trees, whose silver blossoms and golden fruit together laugh to scorn the very name of winter.
Such were my thoughts while strolling leisurely along, in a place where it is hard to say whether the eye or the mind may feast most luxuriously, providing the heart be not dead to that invigorating principle, Christian patriotism. Over my head waved the growth of many generations; magnificent chesnuts, with here and there a native oak, which “wreathed its old fantastic roots so high” as to afford a commodious seat, whence I might look downwards, and trace the windings of the mighty Thames, as he bore, on a full tide, the ships of many nations forth to ocean. Oh what an inexhaustible treasury of bygone days is stored in the flowing waters of old father Thames | Cold reason whispers it is all an illusion: those waters rippling past are as new to the scene as yonder bark, evidently fresh launched. They come from springs afar, in little streams running among the hills, swelled by junction into yonder large body, and hastening away for their first plunge into the boundless main. By what stretch of imagination can you identify these young waters with the scenes and doings of remote ages 7 It is all very true, and somewhat annoying just now: but mutation is the subject of my present thoughts; and to adduce our ancient river as a striking example of that law does not so much discompose me as at another time it might. However, though Thames were dried up, and the very trace of his channel obliterated, there is that around me to compensate for such a loss. My eye rests on the spot whence a spirit was borne away by the angels of God unto the bosom of eternal love—the spirit of one who sojourned here but for a little while, to bequeath at its departure a blessing, long afterwards nursed in tears and blood, and burning flames, but now deeply rooted, widely
spreading, and crowning the land with peace. It was there the sweet, the gentle, the saintly young Edward breathed his soul into his Saviour's hands, and laid aside an earthly diadem for that crown of righteousness which Christ has laid up for them who love his appearing—there he relinquished the broad realm of troubled England to enter upon an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for him, who was kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation. Our language contains few things more touchingly beautiful than the testimony of old John Foxe, our illustrious Martyrologist, to the excellency of this young king. He lingers on the theme with the zest of a traveller, who, after labouring for many a long league through a howling wilderness, full of serpents and ravening beasts, and great drought, comes at length to a soft, sheltered valley, where gurgles a pure spring, overhung with fair trees, from whose branches depend many a cluster of ripened fruit. There he rests and ponders, and rejoices with saddened joy; for the valley is short, and his farther track lies through scenes more dreadful than he has yet encountered. Thus does Foxe expatiate, in the midst of his painful travel through ages of persecution, on the bright oasis of young Edward's transient reign: and cold must be the English heart that does not reciprocate his feelings' On the same spot where Edward died, Elizabeth had first seen the light; and before her the fierce firebrand of God's wrath—the dark and cruel bigot Mary—had there entered the world. One passage from the graphic pen of Foxe is vividly present to me, when I wander in these shades, and tearfully ask, Where has the mantle fallen of that blessed young saint, whom no eloquence could move, no plea of expediency prevail with, where the faith of Christ as opposed to the abomination of popery was concerned 7 I will quote the anecdote in the very words of our faithful Historiographer.
“In the days of this king, Edward VI, Carolus, the Emperor, made request to the king and his council to permit lady Mary (who after succeeded in the crown) to have mass said in her house without prejudice of the law. And the council on a time sitting upon matters of policy, hav