Life — its Duties and Discipline
Hetty Bowman, 1861
It is with feelings of very deep gratitude for the success already granted, that a Third Edition of 'Life, its Duties and Discipline,' is now offered to the Christian Public. The writer owes them sincere thanks for the favor with which they have received her little work; and would now only beg their prayers, that it may be made the means of leading some wanderer to the fold of the Good Shepherd; and of strengthening, stimulating, and comforting some fellow-pilgrim to the "rest that remains."
It is offered to the younger members of her own gender; sent forth in the Savior's name, and prayerfully entrusted to the guidance of His Spirit. May the great Head of the Church condescend to bless it — and to Him shall be all the glory!
Those who have been awakened by the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit, to a sense of the solemn realities of life, and have been taught to consider themselves but as stewards of the grace committed to them — will count no hint unacceptable which may aid them in faithfully discharging their trust, however homely may be its dress, or humble the form in which it presents itself to their notice. And although it may be said that the subject has been already well near exhausted by the many who have written upon it, it is nevertheless true, that, without encroaching on ground already occupied, some corners are yet left whence another hand may gather up the "fragments that remain."
When the claims of Christian duty, long neglected, are at length recognized in their full force — so many seem all at once to start up around us, that the mind is almost paralyzed by their number. There are not only those more obvious ones duties, whose authority all must acknowledge, but also those "minor moralities" of life, which are not recognized as binding, until our eyes have been opened by the anointing of the Spirit to perceive that our work lies, not so much in the importance of the services which we render — as in the spirit in which they are performed. It is then seen that the smile which lights up a cheerless home, like sunshine on a rainy day — the word of encouragement which strengthens one, who, perhaps, is growing weary in the daily struggle — the spirit of self-sacrifice in the little things of life — all these are as really work for God — as the more conspicuous duties of the pastor or missionary.
And while all are called to the work which is unseen — but few are appointed to that which is seen. Delicacy of health, or the pressure of outward circumstances, may preclude many from active labor — but that labor which lies beneath the surface remains to them still.
It is, however, rather to those who are bewildered by the variety of work — than to those who need to have it pointed out to them, that we wish chiefly to speak. They feel at times ready to shrink back in helpless despair from the task which lies before them, and which, however greatly it may be lightened by that constraining love which dwells within them — seems still a burden too heavy for the feeble flesh to take up.
There is the home sphere, where, perhaps, an anxious mother's cares are to be shared and lightened — or grown up brothers are to be won to love the family hearth as the happiest place on earth — or the labor may devolve upon the elder sister, who is, at once, the teacher and the playfellow, the sharer in every joy, and the comforter in every sorrow.
There are the Sunday School — the Tract district — the Missionary Collectorship — all involving no small amount of mental and physical exertion.
There is correspondence, in which every letter is to be consecrated as a channel of heavenly fellowship — by which the bonds of friendship are to be drawn yet closer, and the ties of earth are formed into ties for Heaven.
There is the work of mental culture, without which all the rest will be much less efficient, for none but a well-stored and regulated mind can possess a very beneficial power over others.
Besides all this, there is work "with which a stranger cannot intermeddle with" — the struggle with heart-sins, the breaking of heart-idols, the "bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." And these are to be carried on in the midst of ever-recurring interruptions from without, and of countless hindrances from within.
Is this an overdrawn picture? Does not its reality call forth from many a heart, though braced by the spirit of loving service — the almost faithless utterance, "Who is sufficient for these things!" But on this point we believe that a great amount of misapprehension exists. Many choose work for themselves, which has certainly not been marked out for them by their Heavenly Master — and, as He will give support only under the burdens which He Himself imposes, they cannot wonder if their strength fails them.
To illustrate our meaning, let us take as an example, the labor of Sabbath School Teaching. It is one in which every young Christian, more especially in a town, feels almost imperatively called upon to engage. And surely none can over-rate its importance, or calculate its vast influence upon the "Church of the future!"
Yet we are far from believing that it is a duty incumbent upon all Christians. When the spirit has been worn by the duties and engagements of the week, it needs the quiet rest of the Sabbath as a well of refreshing along the way. It needs to have its faith confirmed, and its love quickened — by renewed consecration to God, by self-examination, and by yet more fervent application for the empowering of the Holy Spirit. We would not, indeed, selfishly consult our own ease and comfort, when souls are perishing around us. Nor is a mere contemplative quietism the atmosphere in which our Christianity will flourish best. It will be ever strongest when we follow most closely in the steps of Him who "went about doing good."
Still, when, as is frequently the case, the Sabbath hours are the only time which can be devoted to quiet communion with our Heavenly Father, without fear of disturbance. He cannot be well pleased when we rob Him of them, even to employ them in His active service. It is true, that time may be redeemed from sleep — that, after the pattern of our great Example, we may "rise a long while before day," but there are many to whom this is physically impossible, and who would thereby be rendered unfit for remaining duties.
And when the little ones at home are untended, when they are left without an elder sister's care — to spend the hours of God's holy day in private religious duties, it cannot be but that the lower duty has taken the place of the higher, in a manner most displeasing to Him who has appointed a "time for every purpose."
Again, we believe that not all, even of those whose position leaves them free to dispose of their own time in their own way, unfettered by any conflicting claims of duty — are, by any means, called upon to undertake an office for which, in many cases, they are not fit. There may be a thorough appreciation of truth in the mind of the teacher — while yet there is almost entire inability to impart it to those of the children. It is not all who possess the talent of communicating Scripture knowledge. And thus the place of a more efficient teacher may be filled up, and the children deprived of instruction, which they might otherwise have received.
Remember, that to each is assigned a special work by God, for which each is especially fitted. Do not, then, hastily seize upon work, which may not be yours, although it is that of many others.
We are far, very far, from depreciating the value of Sabbath School labor. It is a sphere of usefulness second only to the public ministry of the Gospel — and almost matchless in its power to counteract the agencies of evil, and to bring the masses of the population within the influence of the truth as it is in Jesus. We would only entreat our readers to make sure that, while engaging in it, they are leaving nothing else undone — that they are not in danger of neglecting their own vineyard, or undertaking what they are not qualified to perform.
We have given but one instance — yet it is sufficient to show that there is danger, even in the service of our Heavenly Master, of "running where we are not sent." Let us see that the path which we follow is not a self-chosen one — that it is marked out for us only by the light which beams from a Savior's cross, and not by the wandering sparks of our own imagination.
Of one thing we may be assured, that He who has redeemed us with the costly price of His own most precious blood, will be no hard task-master. He will require of us no more than we are able to render; so that we need never shrink back from duty, with the withering thought that we have not strength for it. Strength, indeed, we have not, for anticipated labor — but the "grace comes with the burden," and there is help treasured up for us in Jesus, for every moment's need. It is well that, realizing our own weakness — we should be kept clinging to Him in the helplessness of need.
Our aim, therefore, in the following pages, will be not so much to mark out work which is obvious and unmistakable — as to offer a few hints on that which may be more easily overlooked. In so doing, we would add nothing to a weight which many already feel to be more heavy than they can bear — but rather point out one or two ways in which it may be lightened. And we would, moreover, endeavor to show, that even for those who are utterly incapable of enduring the "burden and heat of the day," there still remains —
"A work of lowly love to do
For the Lord on whom they wait."
On some other subjects, also, we would say a few words of counsel and sympathy, which may, perhaps, assist some young pilgrim in the Zionward way — to disentangle the web of daily duty, and to bear the hidden cross, which is laid upon each faithful follower of the Crucified One.
"He who would do some great thing in this short life," says Foster, "must apply himself to the work with such a concentration of his forces, as, to idle spectators, who live only to amuse themselves — looks like insanity." How much more, when the work in which we are engaged concerns the well-being of our souls for eternity! Then, surely, we should count no time lost, no effort unnecessary, spent in obeying the solemn injunction, to "acquaint ourselves with God, and be at peace."
Though these pages are addressed chiefly to those who have already chosen the Lord for their portion, and are walking with Jesus in "newness of life" — it is possible that they may meet the eye of some, whose hearts are still set on the world, and the things of the world. And firm are the meshes in which it entangles the heedless footstep! Potent the spell which it weaves around the thoughtless and unwary! The world, so fair, so fascinating! how shall it be given up? How shall the fingers be unclasped from that bright cup which seems pressed so full of happiness?
Says the worldling, "Surely the sacrifice need not be made yet! The world and its pleasures need not yet be exchanged for the cross of self-denial and sacrifice! Not yet! Not yet!"
But listen, dear reader, and if the words seem harsh, remember that they are those of Him whose heart yearns with tenderness, pity, and compassion for the lost and the perishing,
"No man can serve two masters."
"If any man loves the world — the love of the Father is not in him."
"Friendship with the world is enmity with God."
What shall we say to these things? Shall we speak "Peace — when there is no peace?" Shall we flatter you with the hope that all may yet be well? Shall we point you to a crown of unfading glory — while your heart still rebels against the light and easy yoke of the Crucified One? Nay!
Rather would we remind you of the solemn warning, that "The end of these things is death!" A day will come when your eye will grow dim, and the death-damp gather on your brow, and your feet enter the dark valley. Where, then, will be your hope? Where, then, will be your refuge? And when that day has passed, and another — yet more terrible, has dawned — when the eternal throne shall be set, and the books opened, and the dead, small and great, stand before God — then where will you conceal yourself, that you may not hear the awful sentence, "Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into everlasting fire!"
It is because we would save you from such a fearful doom — a doom which, as surely as the Word of God is true, will overtake all, however naturally amiable and cordial — who reject the Savior's offered mercy — that we would earnestly entreat you in Christ's stead, "Be reconciled to God." Yield up to Jesus that heart which He died to win, that soul which He came to rescue from eternal destruction. Listen to the "still small voice," which gently whispers, "Come unto me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Go, as a little child, to the foot of the Savior's cross, and ask to be taught of Him. Oh! believe it, there is no peace like the peace which Jesus gives! There is no joy like the joy of acceptance and reconciliation in the Beloved.
There are those who would tell you that religion is a gloomy thing — but believe them not. It is gloomy only to those who have just sufficient of it to embitter the pleasures of the world, but not sufficient to introduce them into the full blessedness of union with Christ. They have light enough to show them their danger — but they turn aside from that which would point out the path of safety. Yes, to such, to the wavering, the undecided — religion must be a gloomy thing.
They strive, although fruitlessly, to "serve two masters," and can please neither. Their inclinations are on one side, and their convictions on another — and the result is misery. Then the unhappiness which is caused by their own lack of decision and whole-heartedness, they charge upon religion, and thus the "way of truth is evil spoken of."
Do not be you of their number. Let it be no longer with you an unsettled question, whether you are His or not. Rest not until you can say, if called tonight to leave this earthly tabernacle, with one who now sleeps in Jesus, "The Master calls, and I am ready!"
See that the atoning blood is sprinkled on your conscience, and that the sanctifying Spirit has begun His work upon your heart. Linger not. "Stay not in all the plain," for the twilight is falling fast, and the dark night of death will speedily overtake you. There will be no escape then — no hope — no Savior.
Then hasten to enter that door of mercy, which is open still. Hasten to comply with that invitation which addresses you in tones of mingled pity and reproof, "Turn, turn — why will you die?" Hasten to grasp the hand outstretched to save you! Hasten to draw near to God by the one "new and living way." There is mercy with Him for all who seek it. There is mercy for you.
Remember, it is not enough merely to be the subject of serious impressions. It is not enough to have the emotional part of your nature excited, as, Sabbath after Sabbath, you listen to the faithful appeals of some messenger of God. There may be all this — there may be appreciation of the beauty of religion — there may be attention to its outward duties — and the most praiseworthy diligence in helping forward every effort to promote its extension. Yet He, who is a "discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart," may still write concerning you in His book of remembrance, "Dead in trespasses and sins!"
We believe that many are deceived by these things; that a naturally amiable disposition, or a surrounding atmosphere of piety which prevents their own inward corruption from fully manifesting itself; or affection for some particular minister, on whose shrine, almost as on that of an idol, they offer up days and hours of unwearied exertion, which they suppose to be for Christ — lulls them into a fatal slumber, from which, if not, by God's mercy, previously aroused — they must one day have a fearful awakening!
This surface work will not do. It leaves the inner depths of the heart untouched. They are not furrowed by the plough of sorrow for sin — nor fertilized by the soft showers of the Holy Spirit's influence. And, if this is all that has taken place in you, my reader, then are you but one of the "stony-ground hearers," who "receive the word with joy," but whose fair promise withers beneath the sun of persecution or opposition.
Taken from the favorable circumstances in which you now are, and placed among those who know not God — what would become of your religion? Could it stand the test? Would it enable you to bear meekly the cross of contempt and scorn, for Christ's sake? Or would you not rather be firmly entangled in the mazes of pleasure? Would you not be found among the number of those of whom it may be said, "Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world!" "You did run well — who hindered you?"
Take these questions home to your own heart. Answer them on your knees before God. "Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith — prove your own selves." See that your religion does not spring merely from being acted upon from without, but from heaven-born life within. Make sure work in this matter. Beware of self-deception. Let nothing satisfy you but a real "passing from death unto life," and becoming a "new creature in Christ Jesus." So, only, will you be "established in the faith" — and, in the day of the Lord's appearing, be "found unto praise and honor and glory!"
But we turn to a more pleasing theme, remembering that if the wanderer must be guided into the way of peace — the steadfast also need to be built up in their most holy faith. What, then, shall we say to you, dear friends and fellow-workers, who long to be employed in your Father's business, and are willing to take from His hand your daily lot of suffering or of service?
We would remind you that there is no vineyard labor on which the Master looks with such a well-pleased eye, as heart work. It may not be in your power to perform great acts, or to make costly sacrifices. You may do no more than breathe the speechless prayer, or give the cup of cold water — yet, if your own heart is well and carefully tended, your Lord will reckon you among His "good and faithful servants." Is your home in Heaven? Are you called with a holy calling? Then "walk worthy" of it. Rest not satisfied with a low measure of spiritual attainment — but aim high, even at walking in living fellowship with a living Lord, constantly realizing His presence, and maintaining close and holy communion with Him.
Remember that it is your privilege to "know the things that are freely given to you of God" — not to linger on the threshold, but to approach the inner sanctuary with a "true heart, and in full assurance of faith." It may be that you sadly feel how far you are from having attained this assurance. It is but seldom, perhaps, that the warm, life-giving rays of the Sun of Righteousness shine brightly upon you. More often you are under a cloud — mourning an absent Lord. You feel that you are not firmly anchored to the Rock, but are ever tossed hither and thither on the waves of temptation and doubt — the light of hope extinguished, the witness of the Spirit lost.
These things ought not so to be. God's heritage ought not so to lose sight of the "hope of their calling." Far be it from us to say that an assurance of salvation is indispensably necessary to the obtaining of it. There are many of God's best beloved who literally "pass the time of their sojourning here in fear." There are many of the Savior's followers who will never be able, in confidence and joy, to say that they are such — until the darkness of times is exchanged for the light of eternity.
Constitutional melancholy, physical weakness, or defective views of divine truth — may combine to tinge the inner life with a gloomy coloring.
Yet the weak believer who cleaves to Christ in the valley of humiliation — is no less dear to Him than the strong one who follows Him on the mount of glory. But we fear that many indolently rest in this, and do not strive nor pray to be freed from the bondage of servitude, and to enter into the full liberty of the children of God. At some future time, they say, when they shall have attained to some higher degree of holiness, when they shall more perfectly reflect the image of their risen Lord — then, perhaps, they may rejoice, but not now. Sunshine may be for others — but it is not for them. What have they to do with peace? Do they not feel a "law in their members, warring against the law of their mind, and bringing them into captivity to the law of sin?" Are they not continually stumbling and falling along the way — or wandering out of it altogether? Are they not, again and again, piercing with grief, the bosom which overflows with love to them?
Dear friend, these things may be true. All who know their own hearts feel that they must be true — and yet there need be no barrier to your rejoicing confidence. Well might the best and holiest among us go mourning all our days, if we were to look within ourselves for any ground of hope. It is not God's will that any of His children should be in sadness and doubt. On the contrary, He commands them to "rejoice evermore," even "with joy unspeakable, and full of glory." "That your joy may be full" — is still His wish concerning you. Why, then, should His will and yours be at variance? Why should you refuse to take what He so freely offers?
We believe that the explanation may be found in that spirit of self-righteousness which is so apt to linger, even in the renewed heart, eating like a canker-worm into the very life of all spiritual enjoyment. You are not willing to "cease from your own works" — and be saved in another way than that of your own devising. You cannot believe that even you, with all your vileness and guilt, your coldness and ingratitude, are still pure and spotless in your Father's eye, because clothed in the righteousness of His Son. You cannot realize that the most helpless outcast who approaches the throne of grace, pleading for mercy in the Savior's name, is no longer "afar off, but brought near by the blood of Christ." Surely, if you believed this, you could not but rejoice. "For" (we quote from the correspondence of the late Dr. Chalmers), "let there be but belief in the Gospel — and the hindrance to peace, joy, confidence, in the good-will of a reconciled Father — is at once removed. Why postpone all this? Why not rely on the good tidings of great joy, and be glad accordingly? How long shall we put off trusting in God for that redemption which is through the blood of Jesus, even the forgiveness of sin? It may startle you to be told that this last question is tantamount to another — How long shall we persist in holding God to be a liar? He Himself distinctly reduces it to this alternative. He tells of the record which He has given us of His Son, and He complains of being made a liar of by all who will not believe it (John 5:10, 11). This, one might think, is bringing salvation very near to us. It is telling us to take and live — to trust and be satisfied. On this footing, and it is the true one — there would be an instant translation from death to life, from darkness to the marvelous light of the Gospel. Let us not think that the way of being washed from our sins is anything more complex or circuitous than this; else we fall into the error of Naaman the Syrian, when told to wash him from his leprosy in the waters of Jordan. We are washed from our sins in the blood of Christ. Let us so believe, and so it shall be done unto us."
Look not then, inward, to the gloomy recesses of your own dark and troubled heart — but upward and outward, to the cleansing blood and perfect atonement of Him who is made unto you of God, "wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." Remember that, in Him, you are without spot and blameless; that in Him there is "no condemnation;" that in Him you, even you, may take up the triumphant challenge, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ that died — yes, rather, who is risen again."
Look unto Him, until you feel your doubts vanish, your fears depart, and your heart open itself to the warmth and light of love. Do not analyze your own feelings. Do not perplex yourself with intricate calculations as to the strength of your own faith. Do not argue, do not reason — but keep your eye steadily fixed on this one grand truth, that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." Why should you exclude yourself from the number? Why should you refuse to take the full comfort of this "blessed hope?" Was it not the lost, whom Jesus came to seek and to save? Is it not the helpless wanderer, which He will guide in safety to the fold? Do not be afraid, then, but believe only, and all shall be well.
Go to God for the faith you have not in yourself. Pray, with one of old, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!" Bring your sin to the Sin-bearer. Bring your soul-sickness to the Good Physician. Doubt not but that His hand will be stretched forth to heal. Thus, and thus only, will your peace flow as a river. Thus, and thus only, in simply "looking unto Jesus" — not to yourself, will you be gradually "changed into the same image, from glory to glory."
Beware, lest you dishonor God, by resolutely wrapping yourselves in clouds and gloom, when He has commanded you to "walk in the light, as He is in the light." Beware, also, lest you confound together things that differ, and place your confidence rather in the Spirit's work within you — than in the Redeemer's work for you. The one is incomplete, and will ever be marred by infirmity, until this body of sin and death is laid aside; the other was completed more than eighteen hundred years ago, when Jesus cried and said, "It is finished!"
Here, then, is rest — the rest into which "we who have believed enter" — rest for you, O weary and faint one, "tempest-tossed, and not comforted." Do not fear to claim it as your heritage forever. Do not fear to cast yourself into the ocean fullness of your Father's love! Do not fear to say, with chastened yet triumphant joy, "I know in whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him."
Thus, also, will you most effectually promote your Savior's glory. A life of praise and thanksgiving will be the best recommendation of the religion which you profess. If we can "sing the Lord's song in this strange land" of sorrow and exile — then who can tell but that others may hear us, and, perhaps, be won to join us in our way? Let us show them that the Christian is not gloomy, as he is often falsely represented to be — but that his sympathies are rather with the bright things of life. His heart is free to enjoy the happiness of this life, because it is at rest concerning its title to that of another. If, like the man in Bunyan's picture, "he has the world behind his back," he has also a "crown of glory hanging over his head!"
Let this be manifested in our daily life, and then our light will "so shine," that the Redeemer's name may be exalted. The world can see that we are cross-bearers — let it see also in us the fulfillment of the promise, "In Me you shall have peace." In every circumstance we shall equally feel that the "joy of the Lord is our strength."
Nothing will so support us to bear the "sufferings of this present time," as the prospect of the "glory hereafter to be revealed." Nothing will so nerve our arm for the combat, as the realized presence of the great Captain of our salvation. Let us, then, pray earnestly that the "God of hope would fill us with all joy and peace in believing, that we may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit."
We have lingered upon this part of our subject, but we may be justified by its unspeakable importance, both to the individual Christian and to the Church at large. We believe that never will the Church of Christ fulfill the high and holy mission to which she has been called, in the evangelization of the world — until her members learn more fully to realize the privileges of their adoption, and to rejoice in the possession of that "perfect love, which casts out fear."
Again, we would entreat you to be on your guard, dear reader, against that religion of sentiment and aesthetic beauty, so unhappily prevalent in this our day, and which possesses so many attractions for the young and imaginative. It is difficult to avoid the snare! It is difficult to believe that anything hurtful can lurk under so much that is lovely, so much that seems devotion.
Have you ever known what it is to worship in a Catholic Church, where the quiet sunbeams steal through the stained window, and flood arch and aisle with their rich yet mellowed light, or throw a radiant glory over the kneeling "Priest," who, in his snow-white robes, ministers at "the altar?" Have you ever listened to the pealing notes of some old chant or anthem, which, with its long low swell of almost unearthly sweetness, thrills even to your very soul? And when the last faint echoes died away, and holy words of prayer and blessing broke the sacred stillness — have you not felt that such worship was well-near fit for the "spirits of just men made perfect?"
Yet, beware! It may seem uncharitable to remove the veil; it may seem harsh to say that there is poison mingled in the cup! Yet so it is. Poison, not in that which meets the eye; not in stained-glass window, nor music, nor surpliced priest — but in the hidden error of which these things are but the outward tokens. All that would substitutes the sign for the thing signified — the cross for Him who was offered upon it a sacrifice for sin — or lead the worshiper to rest in any mere form, even the most pure — instead of rising upward to the spirit and the life — is and must be dangerous in its tendency.
And, without venturing on the troubled waters of controversy, we appeal only to experience, when we say — is not this, in too many cases, the result of the system to which we have alluded? Beware, then, dear reader, lest you suffer anything, harmless although it may seem to be, to come between your soul and God. Let no reasoning, however specious, no beauty of external worship, however attractive — tempt you from your firm hold upon the Scriptures of truth, or beguile you from the "simplicity that is in Christ." "To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."
Pray that you may be kept in lowly humility at the Savior's feet; and there may "learn of Him." Pray that, by His Almighty grace, He would keep your feet from the paths of error, and shield you from the evil that is in the world. Above all, pray that in your own heart you may experience the power of His Spirit to save and sanctify. Thus "keeping yourself in the love of God," you will possess the best safeguard against the seductions of mere human teaching.
But, on this subject, one more word of caution is needed. Take heed lest you fall into the opposite danger of harshness and lack of charity towards those who differ from you on minor points. At a time when religious controversy runs unhappily so high, it is difficult to avoid imbibing somewhat of its bitterness of spirit. Perhaps the prayer of our Church was never so much needed as now, "From all uncharitableness, good Lord, deliver us!"
Do not condemn the good along with the evil; and, above all, do not allow yourself to be betrayed into personal prejudices, which a closer acquaintance with those against whom you cherish them, so frequently shows to be utterly unfounded. Remember that true and earnest piety may consist with wide difference of opinion on many minor points — and as long as human nature continues as it is, it is impossible that all men should see the same truths through the same medium.
Differences of temperament and natural constitution, with the prejudices of early education — combine to throw a difference of coloring over those which are in themselves essentially the same. So that, until you can take your brother's place, and see with his eyes — you cannot be justified in sitting in judgment upon him. One mind cannot comprehend or feel the force of many things, which weigh most heavily with another. The cold and phlegmatic, for instance, have marvelously little 'sympathy with the impressible and optimistic, whose more yielding natures are readily acted upon from without.
There is One, and One only, who can look into the depths of every human heart, and He judges with perfect knowledge of every circumstance which has had a part in what is written there. But as for you — are you to pronounce a verdict against a fellow-sinner, whom, for anything you can tell — you may meet in the mansions above, if, by God's mercy, you reach them yourself?
If, however, you have indeed been taught "as a new-born babe to desire the sincere milk of the word," you will gladly leave the more questionable nutriment of religious disputation to those whose calling and inclination may lead them thereto. When you look into your own heart, you will find there sufficient employment, without entering unnecessarily upon the discussion of matters of debate — and will also see sufficient of its sinfulness and pollution to teach you to bear very patiently with the infirmities of others.
Remember that zeal for religious doctrine, is not always zeal for Christ Himself. Many who manifest no lack of the former, give evidence, by their loud and angry condemnation of those who do not think along with them, that they know but little of the true spirit of the latter. They are far, very far, from exhibiting the "meekness and gentleness of Christ."
Nothing has so great a tendency to deaden the spiritual life, and to promote feelings of self-righteousness and pride, as angry contention, even though it be for the "faith once delivered to the saints."
Be thankful, then, that you are not placed in the van of the battle, where duty would compel you to gird on your sword and fight. Be thankful that it is your privilege to take, directly from the hand of the true "Shepherd of your soul" the food convenient for you. "Feed on it in your heart by faith with thanksgiving." Only in this way, will you "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
But we have wandered somewhat from our original intention, which was rather to speak of the inner life, quiet and hidden from the eye of man, than of the disputes which so unhappily disturb the peace of Christ's visible Church. And yet, on thoughtful reflection, a closer connection may be discerned between the two than might at first sight be supposed.
If that which is inward is to be preserved in health and vigor — then it must be jealously guarded from any pernicious influence from without. These are times of trial and danger, demanding proportionate watchfulness against error in any of its many and beguiling forms. The only safety is to be found in a spirit of child-like dependence upon Heavenly teaching, and in the prayer, offered in unreserved sincerity, "Hold me up — and I shall be safe!"
Hold fast the great fundamental truths of the gospel — those which affect the souls standing before God — and on minor matters you may well afford to suspend your judgment. Leave them for other and wiser heads, but "you continue in the things you have learned, and have been assured of" — clinging to that inspired Word, which contains all things necessary to make us "wise unto salvation."
On this we need not further enlarge, but would rather remind our readers that there is but one way in which they may disentangle those perplexities in duty to which we have alluded in our introductory chapter, and, with them, many of the most difficult problems of the inner experience.
It is in seeking for that single eye and undivided aim to the Savior's glory, which alone can smooth down the many little roughnesses and annoyances which we meet with in our daily path. When the constraining love of Jesus reigns in our hearts — we learn to delight in any labor, and to glory in any sacrifice, by which that love may be more clearly manifested. We are ready to cut off the right hand, and to pluck out the right eye, to do battle with the besetting sin, and to crucify the heart-idol — at the bidding of Him whose very life was willingly laid down for our sakes!
And it is then alone, that our efforts in the cause of Christ can be successful. The words which we speak for God must come warm and fresh from the depths of our own living and personal experience — or they will fall cold and dead upon the hearts of others. Our speech may be about the things of the kingdom — but it cannot minister grace unto the hearers, unless it is "seasoned with salt." It is when we "speak that which we know, and testify that which we have seen" — when our heart is manifestly so in Heaven that all may take "knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus" — that the real power of our religion is shown and felt. Then the world is convinced, even by that which it cannot love — and God's own people are edified and strengthened.
If, then, you would have your lamp to shine as a light in this dark world, remember that it must be daily fed with the fresh oil of the Spirit. Look to your own heart. See to your own vineyard. Be prayerful; be watchful; above all, be in earnest. Do not be satisfied with having a "name to live while you are dead" — but seek to have your life truly "hid with Christ in God." Oh, pray for a large measure of grace, even that your clay vessel may be "filled with all the fullness of God." Walk near to Him in holy fellowship, striving ever to realize the in-dwelling of His Spirit, that, as a temple of the Holy Spirit, you may abstain even from the very appearance of evil.
It is a dreary thing to live afar off from God — to be numbered among the children — and yet to be unable to look up to Him with trusting confidence and say, "My Father, who is in Heaven." We cannot toil up the Hill of Difficulty with the burden upon our back. It must be left first at the Cross, and then, freed from the weight of sin, we can go on from "strength to strength," until at length we "appear in Zion before God."
Again we say, do not allow the stain of unforgiven sin to rest upon your conscience, but keep it ever tender by constant approaches to the "fountain opened for sin and for impurity." There you may be washed daily from the defilement which you must necessarily contract in your passage through the world. Without this, your Christianity will always be dwarfed and stunted in its growth. You will "be ever learning — but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." You will spend all your faith in laying the foundations of hope — and will have little time for those heaven-reaching exercises of adult faith, which fit the soul for dwelling amid the prospective glories and purities of perfected salvation.
We would not see you thus, dear reader. We would rather that you should be rejoicing in hope, dwelling ever in the secret place of communion with God, and abiding in peace under the shadow of His wings.
We believe that God's children need at this time to be specially and solemnly reminded of that "other Comforter" whom the Savior has sent to supply to His people the place of His personal presence among them. We live under the dispensation of the Spirit — but are unconscious of our privilege in so doing? Of how many might this question be asked, "Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?" And how many, alas! might truthfully reply, that although they have indeed heard that "there is a Holy Spirit," yet they have thought little of His work and office, and seldom sought His quickening grace!
Can we, then, wonder if our faith is feeble and our love cold? Can we marvel if our labor for Christ is so often unsuccessful? For never can there be an elevated standard of personal holiness, or real usefulness in our day and generation — until this communion of the Holy Spirit is sought and enjoyed. Never will the living epistles stand out in all their clearness before the eyes of an unbelieving world — until they are seen to be written by the "Spirit of the living God."
In the early days of the church, the Apostles were "endued with power from on high," for the work to which they were called. Herein lies the secret of their influence, and of saintly influence in all ages since. And does that power no longer exist? May it not be given also to British Christians of the nineteenth century to be "filled with the Spirit" — to "walk in the Spirit"? Yes, truly, for the treasury of blessing is still full, even to overflowing. But "they have not, because they ask not." Let them "ask that they may receive," and so shall "their joy be full." So will they be strengthened with all might for the inward warfare, and bring life and light and healing to a world that "lies in darkness, and in the shadow of death."
The time is fast approaching when the warfare shall be accomplished, and the victory won — when the wilderness shall be exchanged for the Father's house, and the "light affliction" for the "fullness of joy." Be patient, then, my friends, unto the coming of the Lord. Pray only, strive only, live only — that when He comes you may be "found of Him in peace, without spot and blameless."
Live, so as to leave a mark behind you. Live, so that others may be the better and the happier for your life. Live, so that death may be to you but an "incident in mortality" — not dying, but going home to your Father's arms, there to receive the welcome of the beloved child who has been long absent in a far-distant country, but now returns to be at rest forever!
It should be the highest aim of every Christian, continually to realize that this world is not his abiding home, that he is only sent into it to tarry for a season, as "God's messenger" — to speak words for Him. "God's messenger!" How solemn the thought! How responsible the office! Reader, are you conscientiously discharging it? Are you faithfully delivering your message? Are you so living, as that you will, by and-by, be able, fearlessly, to render up an account of your stewardship, and joyfully to listen to the sentence, "Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter you into the joy of your Lord!" These are no light questions. Do not put them carelessly aside, do not shrink from meeting them — but, as in the sight of that God before whom you must one day stand, bring your daily life to the test which they offer.
If you are, indeed, numbered among God's chosen flock, and have been gathered safely into the fold of refuge — you will at once perceive that, with you, the solemn work of life, so far from being finally accomplished, will last as long as life itself. The influence which, consciously or unconsciously, you cannot fail to exercise over others, must be employed in God's service. He it is who has bought you with so costly a price, even the precious blood of His beloved Son — that you may henceforth "glorify Him in your body and in your spirit, which are His."
God will not have any of His servants idle. To some He appoints one kind of work, to others, another. But to each and all the command is the same, "Occupy until I come." Every one, as he receives the seal of adoption, receives also the precept, "Son, go work today in my vineyard!" Not tomorrow — not next year — not at some indefinite period in the far-off future — but today, while yet the shadows of evening fall not, nor the midnight cry arises, "Behold He comes!"
There is no escape from this law. Nor, if, indeed, our hearts are set aright, will there be any wish to escape. We serve no hard master. We are no slaves, performing, thanklessly, the task allotted to us. Ours is an unconstrained obedience, a freewill offering, an expression of grateful affection to Him who has loved and given Himself for us.
Reader, "The Lord has need of you!" Conscious — deeply, painfully conscious as you may be of your own weakness and insufficiency, it is, nevertheless, true, that in the carrying out of His great designs, He has a place for you to fill. You are a link in the chain, and the most momentous interests are daily dependent upon you. No one can take your place. No one can share your responsibility. Only yield yourself up, "to be as clay in the hands of the potter" — and He will make of you a "vessel fit for His own use." Only pray, in believing sincerity, "Lord, What will You have me to do?" and be assured that, in one way or other, your work will be marked out, and the strength given with which you are to perform it.
Keep your eye ever fixed upon your Heavenly Father's eye, so that you may be ready to follow its lightest motion. Do not look out for great services, such as may dazzle the world by their splendor — but cheerfully take up those which lie in your daily path, and accomplish them, as "unto the Lord — and not unto men." If you will do this, you will soon find your hand fully occupied, and your spirit growing strong to do and to bear.
Remember, even the tiny dewdrop has its mission; the little insects which dance so merrily in the summer sunshine fill no useless place in the scale of creation. These, also, in their measure, are "faithful in little things." And can it be, that you alone are to remain unemployed? Nay, truly, for "no man lives unto himself."
But this subject has been so often and so ably handled, that we need not further enter upon it. Yet we must offer a few hints on one or two departments of work, the importance of which is too frequently overlooked.
First, on that (and it comes most strictly under the head of way-side work) which we may do as we journey hither and thither in this "house of our pilgrimage." We fear that with many, even of God's believing people, a journey is a thing far too lightly undertaken. We are often too resolutely bent upon following out some favorite plan of our own, to stop and ask counsel of Him who has commanded us, in "all our ways," seek His guidance.
In the anticipation of a visit, or of a tour of pleasure, we are apt to look rather for our own ease and health — than for the way in which we may best glorify God. At such times it too frequently happens that the watchfulness and circumspection of our heavenward walk is relaxed, our close communion with God is interrupted, our approaches to the throne of grace are less frequent, and our holy fellowship With the Father and the Son is estranged.
In short, we seem to imagine that relaxation from mental or physical exertion, implies also a sort of relaxation in our spiritual progress, and so, instead of diligently cultivating "vacation piety," we are in danger of indulging a "vacation from piety." Thus we lose ground which cannot be regained by months of unceasing toil — for it is impossible that, after a season of sloth and carelessness, we should stand exactly as we did at its commencement. If there is not advancement — there must be declension. Ours must be a ceaseless warfare, and if, even for one moment, we wield our weapons with an unsteady hand — the enemy will surely gain an advantage over us. And thus our influence for good is weakened — for our lamp must burn with a clear and steady flame, or it can never give light and guidance to another.
There is a living power in the example of one who constantly dwells in the "secret place of the Most High" — which makes itself felt, even when no word is spoken. He is surrounded by an atmosphere of prayer, with which no light or worldly element can mingle, and which at once stamps him as an heir of the glory. Such a one is a "living epistle," which all can read — a "shining light" which all can see.
Where this is lacking, where the Christian sinks to the level of other men, and does not declare plainly that "he seeks a heavenly country" — his influence becomes positively pernicious. A stumbling block is cast in the way of the unconverted, and the faith of God's children is weakened rather than confirmed. See to it, then, dear reader, that you allow no outward circumstances to hinder you in the race set before you. Pray that your eyes may be "turned away from beholding vanity," and kept fixed upon the "Author and Finisher of your faith." Let a sense of danger drive you to the shelter of the Rock of Ages — that there, beneath its kindly shade, the world's glare and sunshine may have no power to harm you.
And, alike in visiting and in journeying, strive to follow only where the guiding pillar leads. Seek to be made willing to go or to stay — as you may most effectually perform your Master's bidding. It may be that He designs you to carry a message of hope and consolation to some weary sufferer, who is to hear from your lips the needed assurance that the "Lord has not forgotten to be gracious." Or you may be sent to arouse some slumberer, to quicken the halting step of some lingerer along the way, or to cheer some tried and doubting pilgrim by your own more steadfast faith in the "faithful and true Witness." Or, perhaps, your own soul needs to be refreshed, and you are "sent to sojourn for a season where it may be more abundantly watered by the fertilizing dew of the Spirit — that in solitude and stillness, or in sweet communion with fellow-travelers to the Celestial City — you may be strengthened to "hold fast the beginning of your confidence steadfast unto the end."
Of one thing you may be sure; that wherever you are sent, it is on some special errand, whether it is that your Father intends to use you in speaking to others that which He would have spoken to them — or that you are to hear from them what, at that particular time, it is necessary for you to know.
Beware, then, that you do not carelessly pass by that which is given you to do. A neglected opportunity — a tract ungiven — a warning unspoken — who can tell what momentous consequences may follow from matters apparently so trivial?
We see but little of friend or companion upon this tossing ocean of life, where we can but exchange a hurried greeting as we are borne past each other on the crested billows. Let us, then, strive to turn these "way-side glimpses" into pledges of an eternal meeting. Let them not be frittered away in idleness or folly — but let their record be, that the "Lord hearkened and heard, and wrote down in His book of remembrance," the words which were spoken by His loving children.
Let us specially plead that they may be to us "times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord" — so that our lips may be constrained to give utterance to the fullness of the heart. Then, when the earthly tabernacle is exchanged for the better and abiding home — we shall have many to welcome us there, and many to follow in our footsteps, who, but for us, would have been in hopeless misery!
The distribution of tracts offers another field of labor, which all may enter. By this we mean, not merely the taking charge of a "tract district," though this is, in itself, a labor of love which cannot fail of its reward. But there are many who have neither time nor strength to undertake such an office, who may yet, as they pass through the world — scatter tracts, like seeds of blessing, which may take deep root within the heart, and bring forth fruit a hundredfold. Offer tracts whenever and wherever you have an opportunity. Give them to the beggar by the way-side, to the stranger whom you meet, and may never meet again, to the cabman as he sits upon his box, to the omnibus-driver, who may truly say, "No man cares for my soul!" Scatter them in your daily walks. Leave them in railway-carriage and steam-boat. Who can tell the good that they may do? Who can count the wretched homes they may make happy, the jewels they may win to sparkle in Immanuel's crown?
And though the effort may seem to be unsuccessful, though the seed may lie dormant for many a weary year, as though it had been sown upon the rock — yet, by-and-by, it may be quickened by the living breath of the Spirit, and spring up into everlasting life! And then that rescued one, who has thus been plucked as a brand from the burning, may, in his turn, spread the glad tidings of a Savior's mercy, until, at length, the tiny stream which had so feeble a source, may become a broad and mighty river, bearing a glorious freight to the shores of the distant eternity!
How can you be idle with such work before you — work in which the weakest may share? An infant's hand may plant the acorn, which will one day be a spreading oak; and even your hand, trembling though it is — may lead another sinner to the mansions of glory! Toil on, earnestly and hopefully, with a single eye and a brave purpose. The great day of disclosures will show that your "strength has not been spent in vain, nor your labor for nothing."
But we need not add more. Enough has been said to show that wherever there is a hearty desire to be useful — the means of being so will most certainly be found. If we are "walking in the light," we shall readily hear the "first and softest call" to labor in the vineyard. A spirit of lowly and reverent love will be ever on the watch to seize every opportunity of proving its devotion. Daily are we reminded that our work is but "wayside work" — it will soon be over, for the night comes. "Whatever," therefore, "your hand finds to do — do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, where you are going."
Who would wear a starless crown in Heaven? Who would be content with the "lowest room," when the higher place may be won as the reward of self-denying labor? For if our title to glory rests simply upon the imputed righteousness of Christ, we believe that the degree of that glory depends upon the measure of faithful service here. Surely our joy will be increased a thousand fold, if we are enabled to lay up in the heavenly garner a harvest of many sheaves! And if that bright rest which awaits us could be marred by one thought of sorrow — it will be, because we have not been here more diligent in doing that which there we cannot do. Life, like spring, is the only sowing-time, and if it is not improved, the rich fruits of autumn will hereafter be lacking. Work, then, dear reader, for "Earth has no room for idlers — and life has no time for dreams!"
Work, for if you will not, others will. If the children of God are idle — then the agents of Satan will be busy. If we sow not the seed of the kingdom — they will sow the dragon's teeth of destruction and damnation! Never was there a time when God's saints were more loudly called upon to arouse themselves from slumber. The enemy is mustering his forces in all their strength for a final and decisive conflict. Who will remain inactive? Who will refuse to "come to the help of the Lord against the mighty?" Not you, reader!
Then join the ranks at once! Gird yourself for the combat! Enroll yourself in the crusade against ungodliness and error. Take the "shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God," and from a hand nerved with almighty strength, cast a dart against the opposing ranks of the adversary! Only let it be sped on its way by prayer — and who can tell what it may accomplish.
Be patient. There may be weariness here on earth, but there will be rest hereafter in Heaven — rest in your own sinless home, where your ascended Redeemer is waiting to receive you, and where, in the fullness of His unveiled presence, you will be "forever with the Lord!"
Religious and Social Dissipation
There is nothing, perhaps, so strongly characteristic of this so-called "age of progress," as the hustle, bustle and excitement which are attendant upon it. The speed of the telegraph and the railway train seems typical of the rapid succession of events in everyday life; one engagement of business or of pleasure following so closely upon another, that there is little leisure for rest, much less for thoughtful reflection. In commerce, in trade, in literature, even in religion — the same, spirit is everywhere observable, and the busy torrent rushes ever onward, with such force and impetuosity, that few can avoid being carried away by it. Even the most sober and reserved are drawn into the whirl; and, notwithstanding protestations and regrets, plunge helplessly into the same exciting round of imagined duty. We are living literally in a "fast age" — an age of hurry and breathlessness, of superficial acquirements and outside show — an age of mad speculation, and desperate struggles, by any and every means, to acquire wealth.
Such may possibly be the consequence of the striving for improvement, which has been awakened by the rapid and general diffusion of knowledge among all classes of society, but it may be doubted whether it is conducive to strength and solidity of character, or to the formation of habits of deep and serious thought. To think has indeed become a somewhat rare acquirement in the present day, especially among the young.
"We have been," says a modern writer, Mr. Isaac Taylor, "during a long course of years, running hither and thither, spending our days in crowds. We have lost all relish for mental labor, have especially abhorred the toil of private meditation — and have applauded only that which tends to maintain and promote an artificial agitation of the spirit." The censure is sweeping — yet we fear it is but too just. Of this, however, we leave the reader to judge.
But it is among the professors of religion that this spirit of excitement is chiefly to be deplored. We speak not now of those merely nominal disciples, who are still "of the earth, earthy" — but of those who have been truly "renewed in the spirit of their mind," and desire to reflect the image, as they bear the name, of a risen and ascended Savior. Will our younger sisters bear with us, while we affectionately entreat them to be on their guard against this growing evil, and to remember the injunction by the Apostle, to be "sober minded."
Nor is the dissipation of which we speak less hurtful in its tendency, because it seems, at first sight, to bear the aspect of intense earnestness in religion. The same craving which leads one to the theater, the ball-room, or, perhaps, the ale-house — leads another to the crowded lecture-room or the exciting social meeting. It is the same spirit which, in very many instances, actuates both — though differing somewhat in its outward development. And, though in another manner, it is almost equally harmful to spiritual growth and health, and certainly does not tend to increase our love for the quiet and uneventful routine of home duties.
But let us not be misunderstood. We are far, very far, from wishing to affirm that it is wrong to attend either meeting or lecture. Both are useful, and have done much to awaken the interest of the Christian public in those noble institutions which seem to be God's chosen instruments for evangelizing the nations. We do not stop to inquire how much of this interest is genuine, and how much may be due to the attractions of eloquent and popular speakers — for, in this life, the evil must ever be mixed with the good — and, while we deplore the one, we must not overlook the other.
Moreover, we fully believe that, in every audience, there are many whose hearts beat high with pure love to the Savior, and with earnest desires for the extension of His kingdom. But we regret that attendance upon these things should so frequently be made the serious business of life, to the neglect of those less attractive yet sacred duties — which, as women, and more especially as Christian women, we are most assuredly guilty in neglecting. When we hear of a lady whose name is on every church committee, and whose place in the public assembly is never vacant — we tremble for the comfort of the domestic circle which is dependent upon her superintending care, and owes so much of its brightness to her presence.
And even if this is scrupulously attended to, and her absence from home of no material importance, so that she can conscientiously say that "these things she has done," while she has not "left the others undone," we should still fear for her own individual welfare. For if, to the time thus spent, is added that devoted to visiting, to morning calls and quiet evening parties, it will be manifest that but a small portion is left. Even the holy Sabbath brings with it no rest, for so much of it is absorbed by other claims, that there is but little leisure for communion with God in solitude.
We are aware that we touch upon a delicate subject, and that the question is one which demands wise and skillful handling. Yet we venture, in all Christian faithfulness, to suggest the inquiry, whether such a state of things is likely to promote the increase of real and personal piety? Is it not true that, among many, the standard of Christianity has, of late years, become visibly lower? that but few, even of the professing children of God, live up to the full measure of their privileges, as heirs expectant of a glorious kingdom? and that a large proportion of them are lingerers in the "border-country," ever looking wistfully back to the world which they have renounced, and striving to introduce into their religion a measure of its spirit.
Instead of the Church purifying the world — the tendency is far too much in the contrary direction, and the world secularizes the Church. If this is so, then may we not say, in the words of Scripture, "Is there not a cause?" And may not that cause be traced to the neglect of that close walking with God, in the secret exercises of the closet, by which alone the flame of heavenly love in the soul can be kept burning clear and bright? Wrong, indeed, would it be, to undervalue those precious means of grace which are as wells of refreshing to our faint and weary souls — yet we are persuaded that more entire dependence upon God, and less on man — more study of His word, and less of the works of human teachers, more searching into our own hearts, and considering our own ways, would bring down upon our own souls and upon the church of God yet larger measures of the Holy Spirit's blessing.
We must not permit the streams, however precious, to draw us away from the overflowing spring. We have need to take heed, lest, while we are wandering about from one ministry to another, in the eager endeavor to gratify that taste for novelty, which, in these days, is so unhappily prevalent — we come under the condemnation of those who "heap to themselves teachers, having itching cars." It is best to keep to the fountain which is opened for us, provided only that its waters are pure. We shall scarcely gain from others, really lasting benefit and strength.
It is quite possible, that, while we are "busy here and there" about the externals of religion — the Holy Comforter may be grieved, and His warning voice neglected.
The flower of divine grace in the soul is too tender, too delicate a gem to bear unprotected exposure, even in the busy religious world. It can flourish only when nurtured by prayer, and unceasingly watered by the "silent dew" of the Spirit.
Nay, more — let us remember that, even while we are anxiously caring for the souls of others, we may endanger the peace, if not the safety, of our own, and so be compelled mournfully to exclaim, "They made me the keeper of vineyards — but my own vineyard have I not kept." Thus our work for God must fail of its intended results, for all words that are not "heart-deep" will be powerless, and we cannot teach lessons which we have not learned ourselves. And though, for a season, the fruit of our labor may seem fair and flourishing, it will not stand the test of that fast-approaching day, when "every man's work shall be tried by fire, of what sort it is."
We say this, not as countenancing any sickly and cowardly shrinking from active exertion for Christ's sake, for we believe that the hardest working Christians will ever be the strongest and the happiest. Those who water others will be themselves most abundantly watered; and, forgetting their own doubts and fears and misgivings, will go forward with unfaltering step, singing, as they go, a new song of praise and thanksgiving. But let them guard against the excitement attendant upon their work. Let them see that it never comes between them and God, or interferes with their seasons of privacy and devotion. Let this be their motto: "I seek not mine own glory!" Let them be content to have self hidden — and Christ alone exalted, and careful
"Less to serve Him much,
Than to please Him perfectly."
We have alluded to the works of man — and the Word of God. And is it not a danger of our time, when "religious" books are so very plentiful, that they may, perhaps, lessen our relish for the simple teaching of Holy Scripture? Is not this one form in which our religious dissipation manifests itself? There is a constant craving for something new in the world of books; and not to have seen the last-issued periodical is almost equivalent to being altogether out of step with the religious world. There are also so many excellent works for devotional use that it is not by any means impossible that we may learn to depend on them, rather than on that inspired Word — the "entrance" of which can alone "give light." We do not undervalue these helps. Rather would we give God thanks for them. But we must keep them in their proper place. We must not allow the 'Daily Portion' to satisfy us, without being also fed by the "Bread of Life." We may be strengthened and encouraged in our way by the lives of holy men and women who have passed away from among us to the better rest — but they must not beguile us from the study of the life and character of the Master whom they served; still less should we set them up as models, or be saddened and discouraged because we do not in all things resemble them. "There are diversities of operations, but it is the same Spirit that works all in all." Do not, then, weary yourself in a fruitless effort to keep up with the press. It will do you no good, either mentally or spiritually.
Especially watch against the fascinating attraction of the current light literature of the day. Works of fiction are, to a certain extent, useful and beneficial — but we must not indulge in their perusal to the neglect of more solid reading. They will dissipate, more than they will strengthen, and are not infrequently made the medium of conveying the most deadly error. But make the Book the "man of your counsel." Feed upon this heavenly food — live by it, grow by it. Let it be your guide, your comfort, your strength, your all.
Let the "Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom." Let it be interwoven with the warp and woof of your being. Pray that it may be illuminated by the Holy Spirit — that your eyes may be opened to see the wondrous things which are written therein, and your heart prepared to receive it with lowly meekness, as God's message to your own soul. Thus will you be enabled to say, with the sweet Psalmist of old, "Your testimonies have I taken as an heritage forever, for they are the rejoicing of my heart!"
But we are to speak of social, as well as of religious dissipation — and therefore must not omit to say a few words on this subject also. We will not allude, at present, to that still more important topic of worldly conformity, which we reserve for distant consideration, but simply to those every-day claims of society which are often felt to be so engrossing and oppressive.
In the first place, then, it must be admitted that these claims are imperative, and not to be set aside. It is not by indolently retreating from society that our mission in it is to be fulfilled — but by impressing upon it the stamp of Christian character, and leavening it with the influence of Christian principle. It is not possible for us to go out of the world — and it would not be advisable if it were; but, while in it, we must seek to be like the river, which, as Rutherford says, "keeps its own fresh taste in the salt sea."
The Christian in society has a difficult path to tread, beset with dangers on this side and on that. For if, on the one hand, something must be conceded to its claims — it is, on the other, lamentable to think of the precious hours which are wasted in conversation which is often worse than trifling, and this even among those who are partakers of the same blessed hope, and fellow-pilgrims to the same abiding home. Christian meets Christian, as worldling meets worldling; they breathe the air of the wilderness — and they speak as if it were their rest; the things of the kingdom are not upon their lips, and their speech is seldom "sanctified by the Word of God and by prayer."
"How often," says Hewitson, "are we compelled to hide our selves in the secret of God's presence from the strife even of some of His own children's tongues! How many speak to you with as much earnestness, about the vanities of this passing world, as if they were still of the world, and not born from above!"
Are hours thus spent, likely to help us in our way to Heaven? Are they calculated to promote spirituality? Are they not rather in accordance with the "spirit that is of the world," than with the "spirit that is of God?" Do they not deaden the fervor of our devotions? Do they not weigh down the wings of faith, and prevent it from soaring upward to the bright realities of eternity?
It is true that, in our morning visits and evening gatherings, the glittering display of the ball-room may be lacking, but is there less excitement, less frivolity, less waste of time? My sisters, these things ought not to be! If the light of our Father's countenance is hidden from us, if the "consolations of God are small with us" — then let us search and see! Let us seek out and bring to light, the secret thing which separates between us and our God. Is He not grieved by our lightness, our earthliness? Does He not often knock at the door of our hearts, and gain no entrance there — because, in the din of other voices, His warnings and entreaties are unheeded? Can we, then, marvel if He withdraws Himself from us in displeasure?
Oh, let us beware. Let us stop in time. Let us dare to be singular. Rather any consequences — than that the luster of our heavenly inheritance should be tarnished, even a little!
But even if our own growth in grace be not hindered by this spirit of dissipation; if home duties and the responsibilities of friendship are remembered; the intellectual powers must run to waste, and there can be little time for that mental culture which forms a most important item in the right occupation of our talents.
Yet it is a more easy matter to point out evils, than to devise remedies for them, especially when, as in the case before us, none can judge correctly of the duty of another. Some are compelled, by their social position, to mingle much more in society than others, and to such, though the path is one of danger, it is still one of duty. He who "divides to every man severally as He will," has appointed them a special work, which they are to do in His name and to His glory. They are to be social missionaries, bearing their Master's message where, perhaps, it might not otherwise find an entrance. They are to lay rank, wealth, and talents, on the "altar which sanctifies the gift," and then, instead of being entangled by their snares and dangers — they will make the offering to God the more costly, and their entire consecration to Him the more visible and impressive in the eyes of the world. Thus may they pass onward to their rest, "Holy fragrance around them flinging, Luring others in the way."
Only let them beware of concealing the cross which they wear. Let them be recognized everywhere as the disciples of Christ, not having one character for the closet and another for the drawing-room — but alike in all places, and in all companies, displaying the badge of Him, "whose they are, and whom they serve."
Let their eye be single in their Master's service, and their lips ever ready to confess His name. Let them remember also, that, if we are to "live for God in the world — we must live much with God apart from the world." We must be anointed daily with the fresh anointing of the Spirit, and have our hearts touched with a "live coal from off the altar" — so that we may think, and speak, and act, in the ever-abiding consciousness that we are not our own, but are "bought with a price."
Watchfulness is also needed, lest inconsistency should bring disgrace upon our Christian profession. There must be no blot upon the "living epistles" — no stain upon the garments of those who have been "washed in the blood of the Lamb."
But there are very many who can shield their social dissipation behind no plea of duty. They are fettered only by the opinion of others, or the usage of society. They allow themselves to be drawn into a multitude of acquaintances, and involved in an endless succession of unnecessary engagements, simply because they lack the moral courage requisite to say, " No." And thus a worm is permitted to feed at the very root of their religion; the graces of the Spirit wither; the privileges of sonship are forgotten; the sacred hours of retirement are invaded by thoughts of things "seen and temporal;" home-work is crowded into the shortest possible space, and the calls to labor in the Master's vineyard are hastily put aside. The stimulus of artificial excitement, once needless — now becomes essential, and life, without it, is scarcely endurable!
Shall there not be a reckoning for these things? Will they pass by, and leave no trace behind them? Dear reader, do not allow yourself to be held fast within these iron shackles. Break through them, cast them from you, while yet you are able. Remember the high calling with which you are called as a citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem. Take heed — you stand on slippery ground. Hasten away from it. Escape for your life; lest, perhaps, the net of the destroyer be woven about you, and your feet never stand within the golden gates of the celestial city!
Thousands have perished where you are now, and thousands more, instead of having an "abundant entrance" ministered unto them, have been "saved so as by fire." Remember the admonition to "avoid even the appearance of evil," to "hate even the garment spotted by the flesh." And, before all else, pray for that realizing faith which will enable you to look at the things of time in the light of a coming eternity. Then will the present world be kept in its proper place, as a shadow that is quickly disappearing into the past, though its record is laid up in the never ending future. You will learn to "endure, as seeing Him who is invisible," and so to keep yourself, "unspotted from the world."
The consciousness that the Savior's eye is ever upon you, will guard you from everything that may grieve Him — and the brightness of His smile will be your support in every difficulty. You will find that, in the strength which He can give, every crooked place will be made straight, and every rough place plain before you; so that, leaning on an unseen arm, stayed by a invisible hand — yet felt, you may go from grace to grace, until at length, when your Father's work on earth shall be ended, you joyfully pass from grace to glory!
Separation from the World
"Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him!" 1 John 2:15
Such is the injunction of a holy Apostle, one who was largely baptized with his Master's spirit of love, and had nothing in common with those rigid ascetics, who would make one continued act of self-mortification of life. Why, then, has he, or rather, why has the Spirit of God who inspired him, thought it needful to leave on record so stringent a command? Why, but because he knew that the "friendship of the world is enmity with God!" "If anyone loves the world — the love of the Father is not in him." He knew the delicate organization of the spiritual life, and therefore uttered an emphatic warning against its exposure to, the tainted atmosphere of a world that "lies in wickedness."
Well would it be, if the professing followers of Christ were more influenced by this warning, and more habitually realized their calling to be a peculiar people, chosen out of the world, though for a season they are compelled to remain in it.
"How far may I conform to the world without, compromising my Christian profession?" is a question which has often caused great perplexity to the believer. It is impossible to lay down a fixed rule by which all are to be tried; for, in forming a judgment as to a thing that is not in itself sinful, differences of temperament, and social position, with many other considerations, must be taken into account.
"I think," writes one, "the love of the world may show itself very differently in different people — and no one can altogether judge for another, whether they are indulging it or not, in what they do. But I believe conscience tells each child of God in secret. After all, our grand concern is, to aim at close walking with God, leaving Him to order our steps for us, and trusting Him so to order our way as best to enable us to walk closely with Him."
Each one must, therefore, trace out the path of duty for himself, and will always most easily discover it, in proportion as he is most fully walking in the light.
But we have always felt, that the question, as given above, is wrongly stated. If we have, indeed, been made to "sit in heavenly places" with a risen Savior, and taught to "set our affections on things above" — we shall inquire, not "How far may I conform to the world" — but "How far may I be separate from the world, without neglecting the special work which God has given me to do?"
It is a dangerous thing to speculate how nearly one may approach to the edge of a precipice, without peril of destruction. We cannot take fire into our bosoms — and expect not to be burned. We cannot play with coal — without having our garments sullied. Besides, if our ears have been opened to distinguish, however faintly, the echoes of the song they sing in glory — we shall care little for the poor music of this world.
It is not so much that we dare not mingle with the world — as that we have no desire to do so. We love the narrow way, strait and painful though it is — better than the broad way, with all its offered charms. We have lost our relish for such worldly pleasures. We are satisfied with the joys which Jesus gives, and we need no other. What have we to do with anything which would obscure our sight of the "hope set before us," on which we desire that our hearts should be entirely fixed?
Are we not strangers and pilgrims in this poor world? Do we not profess to seek a "better country, that is a heavenly one?" Then why should we entangle ourselves with that which will only hinder us in our progress? Why should we purposely add a heavy weight upon ourselves as we journey heavenwards? Rather let this be our answer, to all who would persuade us to loiter along the way, "I cannot tarry with you, for I am journeying to my heavenly home!"
But, although it is impossible to do more than lay down broad general rules, already framed for us by the Word of God, which speaks in this matter with no uncertain tone — we would, nevertheless, say a few words, in the spirit of Christian meekness, on a subject which, in the present day, is very frequently discussed. We allude to attendance on Concerts, which is considered by many truly good and pious men to be both innocent and allowable. Far be it from us to sit in judgment on the duty of another. We design only to offer one or two hints, which may perhaps assist the reader in coming to a decision.
It has been urged, in defense of Concerts, that music, which, we are led to suppose, will enter so largely in the employments of the heavenly rest, cannot surely be sinful on earth. No one can for a moment suppose that it is! Music, when ennobled, as it always will be, by being consecrated to God — is one of the greatest external aids to devotion, and often assists the lagging and earth-bound spirit to rise from things below to things above. And even when not sacred, it cannot reasonably be objected to, since it is one of the graceful adornments which make home happy, and often prevents the formation of a taste for more questionable amusements. Music is a strong link in the family bond, and frequently holds together what might else be a scattered flock. Nothing can be useless or hurtful, of which this can be said. Religion never was designed to narrow the circle of our pleasures. It rather purifies and elevates them! "
"Since I have known God in a saving manner," writes Henry Martyn, "painting, poetry, and music, have had charms unknown to me before. I have received what I suppose is a taste for them; for religion has refined my mind, and made it susceptible of impressions from the sublime and beautiful."
But this leaves the question of CONCERTS wholly untouched. It is necessary to distinguish between music in the quiet home — and music in the brilliant and crowded assembly-room. In the one case, there are accompaniments, which, in the other, are lacking. Besides, it is manifestly impossible to argue from what may be fitting in a state of holiness and purity — to what may be expedient in a state of imperfection and sin. "Unto the pure, all things are pure; but unto those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure." We must not separate antecedents from their consequences; or forget that what is, in itself, harmless — may become pernicious when it gives occasion to evil. This must always be dreaded here below, but the fear will be needless when sin shall cease to be in Heaven.
Thus, it may be no more sinful, considered per se, to listen to music at a Concert, than it is to handle cards and dice — yet no one can defend gambling. It is against the consequences of both of these things that objections may be brought. It may be said that the two are not alike. The one tends to refine, and elevate, and soften human nature — the other tends to debase it. Be it so. The fact cannot be contradicted. Nevertheless, we think it can be shown that both lead to evil, though the evil differs in kind, and in degree.
To confine ourselves to the subject which we at first proposed to consider: Let every Christian, laying aside prejudice, and with earnest prayer for Divine guidance, calmly and dispassionately inquire whether his own personal piety is not injured by mingling in scenes of worldly amusement. Is not the warmth of his love for Christ chilled? Is not the fine edge of his spiritual affections blunted? Can he solemnly implore God's blessing on what he is about to do? Can he pray that he may enjoy the sense of His presence, may adorn His doctrine, and glorify His name?
Can he feel that he is going where he may do his heavenly Master's work — may be made instrumental in converting souls to God, or in strengthening his weaker brethren? Who does not feel that to introduce religious conversation in such a place would be to offend against every rule of propriety? Yet surely, the Christian should not go where the name of Christ is not to be mentioned!
Again, can the believer truly say, that, by time so spent, he is more fitted to enjoy that close and holy fellowship with the Savior, which it should be his one great object to attain? Is he able to return from the Concert-room to the stillness of his prayer closet, and there, without more than ordinary distraction — draw near to his Father's throne, with the consciousness that His eye is resting upon him, as on a beloved and obedient child? And when the sacred page is opened, do not his thoughts still wander to the mirthful scenes which he has left? Instead of his listening to the sweet words of Him who "spoke as never man spoke," do not the strains of music still linger in his ear, and float persistently around him? Does not his spirit seem more than usually chained down to the things of sense and time, and more than ever sluggish in soaring upward, on the wings of faith, towards the fair hopes and joys of another world?
And when there are so many unavoidable hindrances, so many rugged and difficult places along the narrow way — we have but little need to add to them by those we fashion for ourselves.
Yet, once more, "The time is short!" The arrows of the destroyer are flying thick and fast around us. Who can tell but that the one may even now be on its way which is to summon us before the judgment-seat? And shall it find us at a Concert? Shall it call us from thence to render up our account unto Him "in whose sight the very heavens are not clean," and "who will not allow any iniquity" in His children? Do we not shrink from the thought? Should we not be ready to exclaim, if, with our bodily eyes, we could see the hand of death outstretched to touch us with its icy fingers, "Not here, oh! not here!" Then, surely, since there is but a step between us and eternity — we ought not to go where we would not wish to die!
But even supposing that all these questions could be satisfactorily answered, and allowing that we could venture into such scenes without injury to ourselves individually — there is yet other ground to fall back upon. Let us not forget the Apostle Paul's maxim, "All things are lawful unto me — but all things are not expedient." He abstained even from that which was in itself innocent — lest by any means he might cast a stumbling-block in the way of a weaker brother. Would that we all were partakers of his spirit!
We believe that the example of those professing Christians who over-step the boundary line between light and darkness, is productive of very great evil. The world is keen-eyed to discover inconsistency. It is quick to mark the slightest blemish in the symmetry of Christian character. And, as such, it will not fail to stigmatize the very least deviation from its own severe and lofty standard of judgment. Its honest and hearty esteem will invariably be given to an "undiluted Christianity" — in preference to a halting compromise between two opinions, notwithstanding the former may seem to be regarded with aversion and dislike.
Besides, if we give in, even a little, to the customs and fashions of those around us who know not God — we shall find it difficult to assign a stopping-place. Where shall we fix the line of demarcation? If we go so far — then why may we not go a few steps farther? If we ourselves do not argue thus, others will do it for us. Thus some "lingerer" may say, "Miss _______ was at the Concert last week; she is religious — and yet she did not think it wrong to go. So, surely, there can be no harm done if I go to the ball."
We say nothing whatever as to the correctness of this reasoning — but only that it is extremely likely to be employed. And so, it may be, holy impressions are effaced — the warning voice of the Spirit is quelled, and His gracious influence resisted. Then one downward step follows another, until the last conducts to eternal damnation! One link after another is added to the chain, until it becomes, at length, so strong that the captive is held fast forever!
Christian professor, are you guiltless? Oh! it is a fearful thing to turn back some inquiring one, who, perhaps, was not far from the kingdom of God! Take these considerations home, dear reader, to your own heart and conscience. Spread them before God in prayer, and ask Him to make you willing to obey Him in all things, at whatever cost to your own desires and inclinations.
If you remain still unconvinced, we can say no more, for God forbid that we should judge of another's liberty. Only take heed, "lest through your liberty, that weak brother perish for whom Christ died." Without wishing to dictate or judge, we would affectionately entreat Christians to consider whether, in going further than this, they are not endangering their own spirituality, and making the narrow way still more perplexing for the weak ones of the flock.
We have made no allusion to DANCING, nor is it necessary that we should do so. The defender of the Concert cannot honestly pass a severe judgment upon the Dance — and the converse is equally true. T he arguments for and against, though slightly differing, are alike weak, and alike strong in both cases. Both, taking into account the preparation required — involve a large expenditure of time and money, given for very different purposes. Both are alike dissipating to the mind, and pernicious to the spiritual health. But if we have not succeeded in showing the inconsistency of the one, we have little hope of doing so as respects the other.
Once more we, say — let us not he misunderstood, as uncharitably branding the defenders and attenders of Concerts as deceivers of themselves and others. We believe that there are among them many who are sincerely and earnestly desirous to "walk as children of light." Yet, we would beg them to consider whether they are thus aided in so doing, or whether, instead of "laying aside every weight" — -they are not rather taking up some heavy weights which are by no means necessary.
But, after all, our main business is with the heart. If the root is right — the branches will take care of themselves. Look inward, then, dear reader, and see that the mainspring is true and steady. If it is not, all your efforts at external regulation will be useless. You must put your heart into the hands of the great Master-Worker, to be controlled and governed — and then the action of the whole will be harmonious. When the magnet of your affections points to Him who is truly your guiding Star — then the attraction of earthly things will scarcely have power to make it tremble.
If some of the holy men of a former generation could once more return to the scene of their labors and sorrows — what would they find among those who profess to follow in their steps?
Would they witness the same decision, the same faithfulness, the same unyielding adherence to principles which involve contempt and scorn, the same resolute separation from everything that is even questionable in its tendency — which characterized their own walk in the world?
Would they not rather be grieved by the levity, the trifling, the inconsistency which are too often displayed — even by those whose names are enrolled in the list of professing Christians?
Would they not be amazed at the slender barrier which divides those who are in the world — from those who say that they have renounced it?
Would they not be bewildered by the strange mixture of good and evil which is presented by many who bear the name of Christ; one day to be found in the committee-room of some religious society — and the next at a dance; one day at a prayer-meeting — and the next day at a concert?
Deeply would their hearts be saddened by these things, and mournfully would they exclaim, "How has the fine gold become dim!"
It is to be feared that the religion of the day is, in many respects, of too easy a nature. We know . . .
little of sacrifice,
little of deliberate counting the cost, and
little of forsaking all for Christ's sake!
It is true that this is comparatively little needed as it was in by-gone times. The open confession of Christ does not now involve, as once it did, the estrangement of friends, and the ridicule of acquaintances. The days are passed when the bare suspicion of having become a "Methodist," was sufficient to exclude from the pale of polite society. Now the tide has set in a contrary, direction, and, to use the quaint, but forcible language of Bunyan, "Religion now goes in silver slippers."
But it may be questioned whether the cause of God has, in reality, gained much by the change. The calm is more perilous than the storm — the world's smile is more dangerous than its frown. The river which is deep and rapid when hemmed in by rocks on either hand, becomes sluggish when its course lies through the fertile plain.
Truly the Church of God, in these latter days, has need to watch that she be not found lingering in the plains of Sodom, instead of pressing forward, with girded loins and hastening step, to the Zoar which she has set out to seek. Let her take heed, lest He who "walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks," visits her suddenly with the rod of His wrath, and lest her slumber be broken by the unlooked-for coming of the Bridegroom.
But, as the Church is composed of individual believers, let each one of us search and see whether the voice of conscience harmonizes with the dictates of the Word of God. Do not hesitate, my reader, fearlessly to rank yourself on the Lord's side. Listen to the command to "come out and be separate," and be assured that, in obeying it, you will experience a peace such as the world cannot give. The joy that is "unspeakable and full of glory," will never be yours if you tarry upon the debatable ground.
Go forward! Beware of that dwarfish Christianity which is content with simply having a " name to live." Rest in nothing short of a full participation in all the blessings and privileges of the new covenant. Seek to know your place in your Father's heart of love — and then no earthly thing will tempt you thence. Oh, leave the broken cisterns of this poor world, which can never quench your spirit's fevered thirst. Cast yourself upon the fullness of God's grace and mercy, and pray that His own hand may satisfy you with the riches that are treasured up in Christ.
Pray that you may be "strengthened, established, settled;" not like the slender sapling, which is swayed this way and that by every changing wind, but like the full-grown tree, whose roots have penetrated deep and far, and whose boughs are laden with goodly fruit. Live so that all may know "whose you are, and whom you serve."
Remember that, of every one who has enlisted under the "banner of Christ crucified" — it is required to fight manfully against a triple rank of enemies, "sin, the world, and the devil." Therefore, "take unto you the whole armor of God." Let "Christ in you" be the watchword of your warfare, and the crown of glory the prize which you toil to win. This, this is "the victory that overcomes the world, even your faith" — faith which enables you to dwell, even while on earth, so near the unseen world, that when, at length, you are called to go thither, you may find it no strange country, but a long-loved and familiar home!
Friendship and its Responsibilities
If it is true that "love is power," then it is no less true that power involves responsibility. Every talent is to be accounted for, to Him who has bestowed it — and there is none more weighty than that which has been entrusted to the keeping of every human being — the power of loving. Other talents are distributed (and for wise reasons) with an unequal hand — but the power of loving is given alike to all. Even as the joyous sunshine, which rests so lovingly both upon the rich palace — and the poor cottage; on the quiet valley — and the rugged mountainside. The heart that dwells within a royal mansion may throb beneath a queenly robe — but it differs in nothing from that of the lowly maiden who fills her pitcher at the village well. One invisible chain encircles them both; and, though its links are silken — they are none the less strong. It is the love which thrills in every human bosom, like some delicate flower blooming in the midst of desolation, a relic of beauty departed.
Hence, however, arises the responsibility. All can love — therefore all can influence. And not only so, but all must influence. It is a necessity of their being, inseparable from their very existence. Consciously or unconsciously — all must attach others to themselves, and draw them with them on their way, whether it is upwards or downwards. It is a solemn thought, which may well make us pause and tremble, as we inquire, "If those I love were to follow my guidance — then where should I lead them?" Oh! where?
But it is not of influence generally that we would speak. It is a wide subject, on which we cannot at present enter. We would touch only upon the influence of our friendships.
Perhaps, among all earthly blessings, there is none greater than that of Christian friendship. Assuredly there is none which brings with it a greater amount of happiness. And the friendships of the young are true, for young hearts entwine around each other like clasping tendrils; and, in after years, when time and change have done their work, the recollection of early attachments is still laid up in memory's holiest place.
On what hours is it that our thoughts love best to linger? Is it not on those which we have spent in days gone by, with friends who, it may be, have long gone from us to their long home. Their memory is with us still, and steals back upon our wearied spirits like a blessing from above. And when, in the summer twilight, or around the winter hearth, we converse together of the things which belong to our peace; when we speak of the home to which we go, and of the Friend on whose arm we lean by the way; when eye meets eye in the glance of kindly sympathy, the language of thoughts too deep for speech; when words die away into silence, and each spirit is solemnized by the felt presence of an unseen Savior — do we not feel that the present "communion of saints" on earth is, indeed, a type and earnest of their future communion, where the spirits of the just shall be made perfect?
Do not our hearts glow with gratitude, as we take from the Savior's loving hand a blessing which He himself has consecrated? for it is written, that "Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus."
Yes, there is joy in earthly love — but also there is responsibility. It is to be feared that we do not sufficiently remember this. We look upon our friendships too much as the things of time, forgetting that they are but the links of a chain which stretches forward into eternity! How much may depend upon the forming, or not forming, of a single acquaintance! How greatly may the circle of our influence be widened and opened out by it! How vast may be its results for the future, our own and that of others, both here and hereafter!
Surely we have need to pray that our friendships may be sanctified, that our Father's approving smile may rest upon them, and that they may strengthen and stir us up in our journey Zionwards!
Among the greatest responsibilities of friendship, we must reckon the correspondence which it involves. There are many people, useful and well-meaning, who imagine that letter-writing is a mere waste of time. And so, indeed, it is, and must be — if restricted to empty compliments and heartless formality; or, if it is nothing more than even the expression of deep and heartfelt affection, or the interchange of thought on the passing events of this world. Surely it is unworthy of immortal beings thus to fritter away precious hours, which all the wealth of worlds can never buy back again — in recording with deliberate earnestness the airy trifles of common life!
But letter-writing may be turned into work for God. Through it, we may deliver a message of earnest warning to those who are still afar off from Him, which He, to whom the weakness of the instrument is as nothing — may make a sharp shaft winged from His quiver! Absence, and the tender feelings called up by the sight of well-known hand-writing, will give it greater force, and it may be the means by which the Good Shepherd will bring some straying wanderer back to His fold. And though it may be carelessly read and hastily thrown aside, and may seem to produce no effect until long years have passed away, when, perhaps we ourselves are laid in the quiet "sleeping place" — yet the bread that was cast upon the waters in prayer and faith shall surely be found to the Savior's glory, though after many days. And whether or not our efforts are thus blessed, our own souls are delivered from "blood-guiltiness."
Again, in the midst of all the "changes and chances of this mortal life," in the heavy weight of woes which often presses so sorely upon sorrowing humanity, the letters which we write may be as cups of cold water, by which some fainting one may be refreshed and braced for the difficulties of the journey. Can we not all remember the time when a letter has been to us as a gleam of sunshine on a dark and dreary day, bringing just the message which our souls most needed, so that we could not but recognize in it the over-ruling hand of a gracious Father?
"Letters," says one now gone to her rest, "are God's messengers, awakening, comforting, and refreshing the world-wearied and the sorrowful — if we will only send them forth in His name, and write them with a single eye to His glory. In this life we may never know the good that they do — but we shall know it in the life to come, while thankfully ascribing it to God's grace."
There are some to whom correspondence seems to be assigned as a special mission. God has put into their hands, the pen of a ready writer, which He has commanded them to use for Him. Let them not seem or despise their work because it seems of small importance. It is that which their Master gives — and this makes it true and holy. Though they may be prevented from the performance of active duty — they may yet, as they pass through the world, write words of counsel and encouragement which many an aching heart shall bless. Only let them do it simply and lovingly, not seeking to exalt self, but to glorify their Savior, and to "build up" others in their "most holy faith." Let them not forget fervently to pray that they may be taught both what to say, and how to say it — and that God would be pleased to speak through them, that which He would have spoken. Without this, all their efforts will be of no avail.
And, surely, the letters of those who profess to be "strangers and pilgrims on the earth," should never be without a word of the place which is to be their permanent abode! The time and strength with which they are written, are not our own — they belong to Him who lived, and died, and rose again, that we might henceforth live, not unto ourselves, but unto Him. Let us not, then, in this matter, be unmindful of the Apostolic injunction, "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do — do all to the glory of God!" Henceforth, reader, let your letters be "sanctified by the Word of God, and by prayer."
Nor must the necessity for firm — yet gentle faithfulness in reproof, be omitted in our enumeration of the responsibilities attendant upon friendship. It is one which is but seldom acknowledged in practice, since it involves the performance of a painful duty. Still, when Christian principle demands it — we must not shrink back. The love which would allow the fault or the error of a friend to pass unnoticed, from a fear of giving pain — is, at best, but a refined kind of selfishness. Better to inflict a temporary wound, than to permit the formation of a gangrene which may endanger spiritual life! Better, far better, to risk coldness and displeasure, nay, even the loss of affection — than to have a soul required at our hands. But such a result need scarcely be feared, at least where the friendship has been formed "in the Lord." If it has not, its loss need hardly be regretted.
On the other hand, however, the utmost caution is needed before entering on an office so delicate as that of a Mentor. We must beware that our accusation is well grounded; that the fault of our friend has not been exaggerated by that many-tongued report which is the author of so much mischief in social and domestic life. And, "considering ourselves, lest we also be tempted," let us do all in the fullness of that charity which "think no evil" — but which, in spite of unpromising appearances, "believes and hopes all things."
Let us despise no tact, no sympathy, no grace of manner — which may make an unwelcome message the more acceptable, so that love may be enabled to heal the wound which love is compelled to inflict.
Above all, let us seek for more of the mind that was in Him, who, while he hated the sin — yet yearned in unutterable tenderness over the sinner, conveying the assurance of pardon in the very look which sealed a sense of guilt upon the conscience.
We have spoken incidentally of sympathy — -not, however, forgetting that, without it, there can be no true friendship. We allude not merely to that congeniality of taste and disposition which sometimes attaches us to particular people by some mysterious affinity — this is involuntary, and beyond our own control. But there is a voluntary sympathy, by which we learn to enter fully into the every-day joys and sorrows, difficulties and hopes — of those with whom we are thrown into contact. It is a power which belongs, naturally, but to few, for we are generally too deeply absorbed with ourselves, to pay genuine attention to the affairs of others. But it may be cultivated, and it will go far towards increasing our influence and our ability to do good.
"Sympathy can only be obtained," however, to use words more forcible than our own, "by living with Him who is perfect sympathy, and deeply drinking of that well of life, which flows from His pierced side. It is all in vain to look for it in ourselves — for it is not there. We must go out of ourselves for it, and the surest way to obtain it is, to feel that we are utterly without it. We are thus led to ask of Him, 'who gives to all men liberally, and upbraids not."
Let us, then, earnestly pray that He Himself would teach us to "rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep." And this not in great things only, but also in small. It is easy, comparatively, to give sympathy in real trials — or in those which we consider such. But when there is a demand for it in what we are pleased to regard as trifles, we are apt to become impatient and hasty. But, without genuine sympathy, it is impossible for us to say what is or is not trifling. That which we would think so — which we would pass by without a moment's notice — may press darkly and heavily upon the spirit of another, becoming, while it is borne in uncomplaining silence, a burden almost too grievous to be endured. Yet the load may be lightened by the touch of a loving hand, and the cloud dispelled by the magic of a kindly word.
Besides, "Nothing can be a trifle which either tries another person or affects their welfare. So, from the lack of that little act of self-denial of ours, we may have prevented ourselves from the delight and blessing of helping them when we gladly would have done so." Oh, let us beware lest we thus neglect the fragments of work which our Father gives even to the weakest of His children! We must not pass by an open door of usefulness, however lowly it may seem to be, since we do not know where it may ultimately conduct us.
We need scarcely reckon intercessory prayer as among the responsibilities of friendship. It is rather a necessity laid upon us; for, when we kneel to ask blessings for ourselves, it is impossible to forget those whose names are engraved on our heart of hearts. And often our restless and yearning anxieties for them can be stilled in no other way than by laying them at our Father's feet, and leaving them there. And when long weary miles of distance come between us and them — when love is powerless to guard and guide — then prayer can avail still to throw around them an invisible shield which no evil can break through.
We believe that the blessings of intercessory prayer will never be fully understood until that last great day, when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, and when we shall become aware how much we have owed to the petitions of some — whom, in the flesh, perhaps, we have scarcely known, but who have been unwearied in their mention of us to the great Intercessor within the veil. How many dangers have been averted! What abundant showers of blessing have been granted! How often have our trembling feet been upheld in the path of life! Let us arouse ourselves to greater diligence in this most important work. It is almost akin to that in which our blessed Lord Himself is now engaged; for it is written of Him that, before His Father' s throne, "He ever lives to make intercession for us."
Let us examine ourselves — let us search and see whether our consciences acquit us in this matter. Could we say, looking back on life from the brink of the grave, that "intercessory prayer is a duty in which we have failed less than in any other?" It is one which remains to us, when all others are taken away — for even the sick and the aged can be praying missionaries, and then can strengthen those who are bearing the "burden and heat of the day."
Let no sloth, no indolence — hinder us in its performance, or tempt us to reckon it of small moment. Let each friendship supply us with a special errand to the throne of grace. Let us spread before "Our Father, who is in Heaven," the needs, the fears, the sorrows of our loved ones — until our own souls are quickened by the life-giving Spirit, and our hearts glow with love to all the scattered members of the one great family. He to whom we pray will surely give to them and to us an answer of peace, and bestow seven-fold upon ourselves the blessings which we implore for others.
With very many whom we frequently meet, it would be impossible for us ever to form friendships. We interchange with them the ordinary courtesies of life, and here the matter ends. Often it is best so that it should be, for only those whose real worth has been tried and proved, should be admitted into the inner circle of affection. Having a "large number of intimate friends," may generally be translated into having very few, or none at all. But even these acquaintances, we must not rashly break off. We do not know to what they may lead. Perhaps they are the materials with which we are by-and-by to perform a most important work. A time of sickness and sorrow may come, when we may be permitted to draw nearer to them, and to speak of the Heavenly Friend who "binds up the broken-hearted." No effort is useless which may aid in preparing the way for this.
Time spent in social fellowship is not wasted, if only we are watchful for opportunities of doing our Master's work, and if we may thus, hereafter, be enabled to do it more effectually. Let us not sever the most slender link of love, since it may, one day, be the means of leading a sinner home to God.
But friendship may become idolatry. The gift may take the place of the Giver, and the heart entwine itself too closely around the things of earth — forgetting that they are but as the "flowers by the wayside." There are some dispositions which seem formed to cling. Like the ivy, they are ever catching to the props which come in their way, and need many a lesson before they can be taught to "cease from man." Such have many trials, which they only know — for this idolatry is what God will not allow, and, however sharp the discipline, He will have it utterly rooted out. "The idols He will utterly abolish!" and, though He may be compelled to use means from which the flesh shrinks back in fear, He will not "spare for the crying" of His children. Now He employs one method, now another; sometimes it is separation by death or distance, and sometimes the estrangement of those who have been long and fondly trusted, but He has always one end in view — to teach us to "arise and depart, for this poor world is not our rest!" It is a needed lesson, for the "nether springs" of earthly love must be dried up before we will seek to the "upper springs" of heavenly consolation.
But let us beware how we thus draw down on ourselves our Father's chastening rod. He "does not afflict willingly," but He is compelled to do it by our obstinacy and perverseness. Let us listen to His warning voice, while yet it sounds but at a distance, lest we compel Him to draw near and arouse us by a stroke which shall make our very heart-strings quiver.
There are, perhaps, few trials greater than that of disappointment in those we love. When we meet after long separation it is most painful to find that their character and feelings and sympathies are changed — while our affection may remain undiminished. We are repulsed and thrown back upon ourselves, and it is well if estrangement does not follow. Yet it is impossible that it should be otherwise. It is impossible that the course of years, or even of months, should pass over and leave no mark behind it — and we must remember that the stream of time, which has borne others forward, has certainly not left us stationary.
We too, are changed from our former selves, so that it is in every way likely that the sensibilities of our friend has received no less a shock than our own.
Besides, here below it is in vain to look for perfect sympathy. One human spirit cannot take the measure of another, or understand language which, to it, is an unknown tongue. If we could once be firmly fixed in this persuasion, we would be saved from much suffering. But the heart is ever going forth from itself — in the restless search for that which earth cannot supply! And it is well, indeed, so that it should be, or the wilderness would be too bright, and the place of our exile would become the place of our rest.
But we "seek a better country," where love is perfected, and where the withering breath of disappointment can never come. And even now, we have the utmost sympathy in that abiding Friend who "sticks closer than a brother," and on whose upholding arm we may lean without the fear that it will fail us like the broken reeds of earth. With such provision for the journey, and such a prospect at its close — may we not well rejoice and be glad, even when our eyes are dimmed with weeping? The cloud of sorrow may overshadow us — but faith can discern the brightness of the rainbow which lingers around it, the pledge of unfailing love. When "the eyes of our understanding are enlightened," we learn to distinguish the "Rainbow braided on the wreaths of storm."
Let us trust God's heart — even in darkness. Let us hope, even when earthly hopes depart. We can never be lonely, never be forsaken, if only we possess the presence and blessing of Him who has left this cheering word as His parting promise to His church, "Surely I am with you always — to the very end of the age!"
Redeeming the Time!
"Shall the God-given hours be scattered
Like the leaves upon the plain?
Shall the blossoms die unwatered
By the drops of heavenly rain?
"Then, no longer idly dreaming,
Shall I fling my years away,
But, each precious hour redeeming,
Wait for the eternal day."
"Redeeming the time!" says one of our fair readers, glancing at the title of this chapter, "Time is of no value to me — what have I to do with such a subject?" A great deal, dear friend, as we hope to prove to you — for it is one which concerns you more nearly than you seem to imagine. The sunny days of youth and health were not given to you for nothing. Each one is a talent to be traded with. It comes to you hearing this inscription, "The time is short!" It will be required at your hands by the Master, who, when He comes, will surely demand His own with interest. All this you very well know; for we speak now to those who have been awakened to a sense of their high destiny as immortal beings, and are anxious that their conduct should, in all things, be such "as befits the Gospel of Christ." The "life they live in the flesh," they would live henceforth "by the faith of the Son of God," and, remembering that they were not "redeemed with corruptible things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ" — they would pass the time of their sojourning here as strangers and pilgrims, looking for a better and an abiding habitation.
Nevertheless, even to these it frequently happens, by some strange circumstance, either that they altogether overlook the duty of economizing time — or that their whole life is one ceaseless and breathless struggle to make their work and their time agree. In either case, there is something radically wrong! For while, on the one hand, we cannot, without incurring a weight of guilt — waste the precious hours which our Father has given us, in which to complete our allotted task — it is, on the other, equally displeasing to Him, when we allow ourselves to be hurried and fretted in our work, and to lose the calm and restful spirit in which we shall ever best promote His glory. Both extremes are to be avoided — but the first is the one into which we are more liable to fall. Of it, therefore, let us speak.
Have you ever considered, dear reader, the real meaning of those three words which stand at the head of this page, and form a part of the Apostle Paul's solemn counsels to the Ephesian Christians? Did you ever think of them as specially addressed to you — as "written for your admonition?" Yes! doubtless you have, and, when you say that to you, time is of no value, your words must be understood in a comparative sense only. You mean that it is not to you money and life, as it is to many. But you fill it up, in general, very usefully, and are honestly desirous to devote it to the service of your risen Lord. And yet, do not be startled — you still contrive to waste a great deal of it in the course of the day. You spend, idly and uselessly, a great many moments, which, added one to another, amount to a sum-total which would, perhaps, shock you, if you could be persuaded to look it fairly in the face.
We believe that, to go back to the good old custom of calling things by their right names, the charge of idleness might very truthfully be brought against many of our fair sisters. Not systematic idleness — not sitting from morn until eve with folded hands — but the habitual wasting of the fragments of time, "Those parings of precious duration, those leavings of days and remnants of hours, which so many sweep out into the waste of existence."
How often are these spent in mere chit-chat, in wondering what to do next, deciding first on this, and then on that, and, finally, on nothing at all, because "it is not worth while beginning anything just now" — or in doing slowly and dreaming what might be finished in half the time, if it were set about in hearty, wakeful energy.
We feel constrained, in all Christian faithfulness, to lift up our voice against this great evil. It is more than an evil — it is a sin most displeasing in the sight of God. It mars the usefulness, and leaves an unsightly blemish on the character of many an otherwise lovely Christian. It will demand a solemn reckoning in the great day of account. You have no more right, reader, to the time which you thus foolishly and sinfully squander — than you have to your neighbor's goods. It is not your own, nor was it given you to be employed as you yourself think proper. It is a trust committed to you by God! Oh, see that you do not abuse it! You are wasting what millions, now in the regions of eternal despair, would give worlds to buy back again — what you yourself will regret with tears of bitter repentance, when, on a deathbed, you look back upon a life in which so little has been done.
Be warned in time. Break the chains of this ensnaring habit before they are wound so closely about you that you cannot get free from them! Remember that every day these chains of indolence are riveted more firmly. They are light and easy now, but, before long, they will grow into iron fetters! Your only hope of safety is in casting them from you at once, with the determination of a renewed will, and the heaven-imparted strength given to all who truly seek it.
But how are you to "redeem the time?" Fully to answer this question would only be to echo what has already been so often said and written. We would, therefore, only repeat, "Gather up the fragments — that nothing be lost!"
Be prompt. If a thing is to be done, don't be satisfied with talking about it — but do it, and "do it with all your might."
Be punctual. Never gain the character of being a drag on the wheels — the last to make your appearance at a Dorcas-meeting — the last to join the family circle at dinner, to the ruffling of Papa's patience and your own temper — the last of an excursion party to reach the appointed place of meeting, keeping the rest in a fever of anxiety, lest you should be too late. "Always the last!" Unenviable distinction!
Do not be the slave of circumstances. Mark out for yourself a settled plan of action, and keep to it. This, of course, it will be impossible always to do. In a town, especially, interruptions are ever occurring which you can neither foresee nor avoid. Every "plan" must be defective which does not leave a large space for these. Here, indeed, lies the useful discipline of every-day life, in the constant warring against selfishness which it compels one to maintain. But still, "things cannot go well with us while it is chance, and not our own conscious purpose, which determines the employment of each hour as it arrives. We cannot, indeed, help yielding to circumstances — but, even in doing so, we may act from the deliberate decision of our own mind. We need not allow our duties to be forced upon us in a succession over which we exercise no control. We may look before us, and intelligently determine what we shall do, and when we shall do it."
Be persevering. Many begin, and leave unfinished what they begin. There is no better recipe for "killing time" than this. You know it is a bad habit — then conquer it!
We could add much more, but it is not needed. We would only remind you of the lines associated with happy memories of childhood,
"Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do."
Ponder them well, and act upon them. A woman's fingers need never be unoccupied. She may always have on hand some profitable reading to fill up the little moments that might otherwise run to waste. We fear our venerated great-grandmothers would be shocked by the very small space allotted to useful needlework, by their descendants of the present generation. They would tell us that to sew neatly and mend well, is of far more importance than any mere social accomplishment, and much more likely to make the wheels of domestic life run smoothly, without jolt or disturbance. Above all, they would impress upon us, both by precept and example, that idleness is, more than anything else (considered in connection with the consequences to which it often leads) disgraceful to a woman.
Remember, then, for your admonition and encouragement, that "the hand of the diligent makes rich." While you desire to be "fervent in spirit," strive also to be "not slothful in business." Yet let your diligence be free from hustle and bustle. Those who are always in a hurry never accomplish much. They do — and they undo. In their headlong speed, they frequently stumble and fall. Or they stop from very weariness, and so allow the quiet, plodding, patient workers to overtake, and far outstrip them.
But, WHY are you to "redeem the time?" Because "the days are evil" — because iniquity abounds, and there is need that all the workers for God should be awake and active. Because the days are few, for a voice from Heaven is heard, "Surely, I am coming quickly!" Because the reward is great — an "inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fades not away!"
"Tis not for man to trifle! Life is brief,
And sin is here.
Our age is but the falling of a leaf,
A dropping tear.
We have no time to sport away the hours,
All must be earnest in a world like ours.
"Not many lives, but only one, have we,
One, only one!
How sacred should that one life ever be,
That narrow span!
Day after day filled up with blessed toil,
Hour after hour still bringing in new spoil."
The Sensitive Plant
"The tenderest heart Your hands have made,
Beneath Your rule may rest;
For He who made it for Himself,
Knows what will shield it best.
The feeblest lover of Your word,
Dwells safely in Your breast!"
When, in dewy morning or quiet even-tide, we wander, in thoughtful mood, in our garden, or along the fields and lanes of the country, to soothe our troubled spirits by the sweet influences which surround us on every side, and to read holy lessons from the fair pages of nature's open book — we can scarcely fail to recognize the many types which present themselves, of the different varieties of nature to be found among men. The oak, in its gnarled strength — is contrasted with the silvery birch, whose light branches bend in yielding grace. The dahlia and the hollyhock haughtily challenge your notice — while the rich fragrance of the passing breeze alone tells you that the violet is near. The gorgeous cactus is thoroughly impracticable to all your approaches — but many a lowly herb rewards the hand that has crushed it, with a delicate perfume. The sunflower stands alone, in proud defiance of all support — while the ivy clings persistently to any object within its reach.
Look around you now, dear reader, among those whom God has given you to love, or with whom you are thrown into frequent contact — and see if you cannot find among these the anti-types of those plants mentioned above. Some, like the oak, can stand alone and unsupported, bravely and grandly enduring the fury of the storm — others rather resemble the ivy which twines around it; while yet others find their fitting emblem in the trembling mimosa flower, which shrinks and withers at a touch. It is to these last that we would now address a few words of tender and affectionate counsel — in His spirit of whom it is said, that the "bruised reed shall He not break — and the smoking flax shall He not quench."
It may be that, from peculiarity of temperament, and natural constitution, you may be exposed to trials, which others, of stronger mold, can scarcely comprehend, and with which they have but little sympathy. Your lot may be cast, outwardly at least, amid the bright things of life; you may have many to love and care for you, many to throw around you the shield of protection from the rough breath of a world with which you are not fitted to struggle.
And yet, in sadness and loneliness of spirit, you may be bearing a hidden cross, which presses none the less heavily because it is one which few can perceive, and none can lighten. You may know little of what the world calls trial — little of sorrow in its outward and tangible shape; this, you think, would be easier to bear. But you are weighed down by a succession of little, fretting annoyances, which most effectually destroy your peace and comfort.
Nominally, at least, they are little; many would scarcely consider them worth a moment's notice; but to you they are real, all the more so, because you must bear them alone. A word, a look, even the tone of a voice — is sufficient to bring the hot tears to your eyes, and to send a sickening pang through your heart, which amounts almost to physical pain. Life seems, for the time, so cheerless — so cold, and dark, and dreary — that were it not for the sinfulness of the thought, you would almost exclaim with Tennyson's Mariana,
"I am weary, I am weary,
And I wish that I were dead!"
And yet, at the same time, the person who has caused you so much distress, may be utterly unconscious of it. The hasty word, which sent a jarring thrill through every nerve, may have been forgotten as soon as uttered. The cold or averted look, which made you close yourself up like the leaves of the sensitive plant when it has been rudely touched — may have had its origin in some cause with which you had not the most remote connection. But this, you think, only makes the matter worse, since it is impossible you can be spared from suffering which is inflicted in ignorance.
Then there is no one who can understand all this. You feel that the burden you have to bear would be lightened if it could be shared by another. But where are you to look for any one who would treat it as more than a mere nervous imagination, which, albeit with due gravity and politeness, they would ridicule and pass over. You would be told, if you ventured to confide in relative or friend — that you were creating misery for yourself, and that if real sorrow came upon you — you would soon cease to feel the pressure of these imagined ones.
It may be so, and yet, in the meantime, you cannot but feel, that these "imaginations" are as real as anything you could have. And so you shrink back into yourself, with the weary feeling that you are alone in the world, and must pursue, through life, a solitary and untrodden path.
Yet there are many, in whose hearts you have a warm place, and whose affection you return in its full measure — but you cannot admit them into the inner life — to share in its joys, or to sympathize in its sorrows. Your fellowship with them, on all ordinary matters, is free and unrestrained — but as to anything that concerns yourself, your lips are sealed! Your spirit turns aside from them — you wrap the mantle of reserve more resolutely around you, and live, more completely than ever, in a world of your own.
Yet how gladly would you throw down the barrier! How your spirit yearns for companionship! How willingly would you pour out your trials and difficulties into some tender and sympathizing ear!
At length, perhaps, your wish is granted. A friend is given you, in whom, after many a fruitless search, you find one whose thoughts seem to have been cast in the same mold as your own; who has experienced the same difficulties, and passed through the same discipline. In the sweet interchange of thought and feeling — in the calm repose of a faithful and true-hearted love — you feel as if your cup of happiness were well-near full. Your whole soul is poured out in one wild and idolatrous attachment, and for once your heart seems to rest and be satisfied. You feel as if now, surely, your long yearnings would be stilled; as if a tie so pure, so sacred, must be a pledge of that yet higher communion hereafter to be enjoyed by the redeemed in glory — when the dross of earth shall be purged away, and all shall "know, even as they are known."
Oh, it is a blessed thing so to love! But at length the hour of parting draws on. One is taken — and the other left. One taken to the rest of the inner sanctuary — the other left to the toil and labor of the outer court.
Or it may be separation by distance. It is not often, that in this "waste howling wilderness," our paths lie long near together. More frequently they diverge in different directions, as the will of our Father in Heaven may appoint. He assigns to each a separate corner of the vineyard to keep and occupy. And so the heart is again left in its lonely desolation — only now more lonely and more desolate than before. Then return the aching and the void, the yearning for fellowship, and the "earnest questioning for treasures fled," which seem to you to be inseparable from your very existence. You feel as if earth could never again be bright — as if no other tie could take the place of that which has been broken.
But, in time, your spirit seeks for itself another abiding-place, which seems so firm that you imagine it can "never be removed." Yet this, too, is rudely shaken, and again and again you hear the summons, pealing to the inmost recesses of your soul, "to arise and depart — for this is not your rest, for it is polluted."
Well, indeed, will it be for you if, at length, taught by bitter experience that no earthly love can really satisfy — you turn, in lowly thankfulness, from the streams to the fountain — and find your only blessedness in the "Friend who sticks closer than a brother."
This is a melancholy picture. Some may think that it has been overdrawn, but others will, we believe, at once recognize in it the outline of their own individual history. It has been faithfully given, with no desire to conceal or to gloss over the blemishes which it contains.
And now comes the inquiry — How is this sad state of things to be remedied? For it is not enough, dear reader, that you confess and bewail it, and then fold your hands in indolence and half despair, contenting yourself with the thought that what has been, must continue to be. If, however, you are really desirous of amendment, you will admit a few words of honest and homely advice from one who can fully appreciate the difficulties of your present position, and would gladly aid you in extricating yourself from them.
In the first place, then, remember, that though you must to a certain extent retain through life the temperament which is natural to you — it is, nevertheless, in your power greatly to modify and strengthen it. To this end, therefore, do not expose yourself unnecessarily to softening influences — for you they are not needed. The tone of your mind needs to be rendered more firm and elastic, rather than weakened.
Hence, do not indulge yourself in the indiscriminate reading of works of fiction. Your imagination is strong enough already — it does not require cultivation. Such books will only give you false and weak views of life, and utterly unfit you for your own place in it. They will lead you to suppose yourself a kind of heroine of romance, in whom center all the evils and misfortunes common to mankind in general. Viewed through such a medium, your nearest and kindest friends will seem hard and unfeeling — and you will learn either to look upon them with contempt, as having nothing in common with your own higher nature, or to regard them with sentiments very nearly allied to dislike.
The contrast between the matter-of-fact occurrences of every-day existence — and the delicious day-dreams of the novels in which you delight to indulge, will become at length so marked, as to be absolutely unendurable. You will shrink back from life with weariness and disgust. Thus, imagined and self-created distress will be added to real life difficulties.
But if, on the other hand, you will steadily apply yourself to a course of judiciously chosen and useful reading, requiring, not merely eyesight, but study and concentration of thought — you will derive from it incalculable benefit. It will enable you to correct those erroneous estimates of men and things, from which so much misapprehension arises — and teach you thankfully to take the world as you find it. It will exercise, and, in exercising, strengthen the intellectual powers — and will supply you with resources within yourself, so that you will cease so acutely to feel the disagreeables which press upon you from without. It will furnish healthful employment for many an hour, which might, otherwise, be spent in idle conversation, or still more idle reverie. Your mind will be prevented from preying upon itself — a process which, as you may suppose, will contribute little to your happiness. But we need say no more by way of inducement. Wage war with sloth, and laziness, and long habits of mental indolence.
"Struggle — you are better for the strife —
The very energy will hearten you."
Only persevere fairly for one month, and at the end of it you will have no inclination to give up. Life will be no longer tasteless and insipid. New hopes, new objects, will spring up around you. Every step of progress will pave the way for others which are to follow — and, before long, you will find that the best prescription for every kind of morbid unhappiness — is work!
Or, if you will not pursue this course, strike out another and a better. Take your Bible in your hand, and go to the haunts of poverty and distress. Carry the bread of life to the perishing. Gather the outcast into the fold of refuge. Raise the veil which hides from many an eye the sad realities of life, and see if the sight of them does not charm or shame away half your own sorrow. Listen to the tale of misery, track out its proofs, witness it with your own eyes — and then set yourself with loving heart and ready hand to relieve it. The blessing of those who are ready to perish will surely be yours, and the cup of cold water shall never lose its reward.
Or, without at all overstepping the boundaries of your own home, you may find in household duties abundant employment which will prove a most wholesome corrective of boredom in any of its developments. Very distasteful they may seem to you — very repulsive to your finer feelings — yet, nevertheless, they form a most important part of every woman's education, and a due attention to them will enable you, at some future time, if not now — to contribute, most essentially, to the comfort and happiness of those around you. Do not despise them, but carry into the doing of them that high and holy principle which, as Herbert so beautifully says, "makes drudgery divine;" even a reference — in these things also — to the glory of Him in whose steps you desire to follow.
You must, however, determine upon your own line of action. Only decide upon something. Shun idleness as you would the plague! Remember that you came into the world, not merely "to be" — but "to do."
One word as to a very necessary qualification for passing through the world happily to yourself, and usefully to others, namely — self-control. How your heart sinks at the word! You feel so utterly destitute of it. Yet take courage. You need not always be so. The means of attaining it are in a great measure within your own power. Struggle for it. Pray for it. Nothing is too small to be made a matter of prayer; and this is a thing which nearly concerns your happiness and welfare. Ask it of Him who "gives to all men liberally, and upbraids not."
Then, begin a resolute battle with yourself. Crush back the starting tear. Brighten the downcast brow. Shut your lips upon the words of fretful complaint. Gain the mastery but once, and the next time it will be more easy. Remember, you must either conquer — or be conquered. Conquer, and your life will be worth living; be conquered, and you will lay up a store of misery for future years! Do not say "it is impossible!" It is not. Few things are so to a brave heart and a strong will. Let not frequent failures dishearten you, but,
"If you don't succeed at first,
Try, try, try again!"
These simple words are rich in lessons of practical wisdom. You must expect to meet with many hindrances in the way of your progress. Many a time you will stumble and fall, but do not lie helplessly still — get up and go forward. The victory which is before you will be an ample reward for every effort you may make to gain it.
Again, beware lest you allow yourself to indulge in harsh or unkind thoughts of your friends, because they do not understand or sympathize with you as fully as you could wish. They cannot understand what they have, perhaps, never experienced — or sympathize with what they have not felt. It is from no lack of affection, but rather from the excess of it, that they do not seem entirely to enter into your feelings. They are anxious to prevent you from imagining yourself miserable — from creating subjects of distress which have no real existence. Conscious that they would be themselves unaffected by those things which cause you such suffering — they are desirous of warning you against what must seem to them to be mere morbid sensibility.
Do not, then, shut yourself up from them, in cold and gloomy reserve. Remember, it is a dangerous thing to trifle with offered love — to put it aside, or to repulse it. If we do so, we may perhaps one day find, that the confidence which we would gladly bestow — is not encouraged; and the love which we would give worlds to possess — is not granted. If we resolutely persist in "entrenching ourselves within our own individuality," it may be our lot by and by to experience that, when we would go forth from it to more unrestrained fellowship with our fellow men — our advances are not received, and, they shut themselves up from us, as we have done from them. And so you may, at length, be really alone, dwelling in a solitude which you have created for yourself.
You say that you are afraid of confiding in your friends, lest you should be misunderstood. Your heart shrinks from the very thought; the effort seems almost greater than you could persuade yourself to make. Yes, it is difficult. Do not try to think otherwise, for it is no easy task to which we invite you. But no difficulty, however great, should deter you from a clearly defined duty. It is wrong thus to isolate yourself from those among whom your lot is cast — it is unkind to them, and hurtful to yourself.
Remember, there is such a thing as making sympathy impossible — a far more common occurrence than not being able to obtain it. If you will but honestly make the attempt to bring others nearer to you — you will find that, as in many other instances, what seems formidable at a distance, grows easy as it is more nearly approached. And though your heart will beat fast, and your cheek will flush, and the words which rise to your lips will refuse to come further — yet, if you can once succeed in "breaking the ice" — your life will lose much of its present gloomy coloring, and the bond of union and fellowship between yourself and those you love will be drawn yet closer. Surely such a result is worth striving for.
One word more of warning. As you value your own peace, your own health, and your power to make life a bright and blessed thing to others: Beware how you cherish that tendency to morbid melancholy to which one of your temperament is perhaps peculiarly liable. It will destroy your own happiness, and paralyze every effort of usefulness. Do not give way to it, even for one moment. Whenever you feel its approach, shun it, flee from it, fight with it as with a treacherous and ruthless foe! To cherish it as harmless and beautiful, and as interesting as it may appear — would be to cherish a serpent whose sting will infect your whole life with its deadly virus!
Compel yourself to look at the brightness of life — not at its gloom. "Keep on the sunny side of the rock." Read the 103d Psalm, and pray over it, until you can, in some measure, make its joyous strains of praise and thanksgiving your own. Ask God to give you a cheerful spirit, to make you one of His happy children, for such will ever be most precious in His sight.
Seek to be like Him, who, though the "Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," could yet say, from the depths of a full heart, "I thank You, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth!" Let this be your motto, "Giving thanks always for all things!" There are many bright spots in the wilderness; many wells in the valley of Baca, from which we may drink and be refreshed. There may be shadows, but the sunshine gilds them. There may be tears — but there is also a joy such as "no man takes from us."
Do not allow yourself to dwell on little troubles. Do not be worried and fretted by them. Receive them quietly. They will soon pass over, and be as though they had not been.
Above all, do not bring gloom over others. Take care not to be the one dark spot in the home circle. It is better to be a sunbeam — than a cloud; better to diffuse around us light and hope and gladness — than to be a sort of living extinguisher. No one can tell how much good we may do merely by looking happy. A smile may be a refreshing cordial to some sinking spirit. There are many sad, sick hearts in the world — let us not make them sadder still. There are many sorrowful faces — let us not needlessly add to their number. Rather may it be said of us,
"In your clear joyance
Sorrow cannot be
Shadow of annoyance
Never came near thee."
Again, remember, that if you had not trial in one form, you would have it in another. If not mentally — yet in some more outward and visible shape. "What son is he whom the father chastens not?" Are you alone to be exempted from the family discipline? It is not well that we should have too smooth paths for our feet, or we would be apt to forget that here on earth we have no continuing city.
"Into each life, some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary."
We would not have it otherwise, for the chastening rod has healing in its touch. Since, then, you cannot be without the cross — be thankful that it is so light a one. It will not be more heavy than you are able to endure, for your Heavenly Father "knows your frame — He remembers that you are dust." He tenderly feels how unable you are to bear even this, without His supporting strength. How can you, then, faint or be weary under His loving chastisement — especially since you are encouraged to "cast your burden on the Lord," in the assurance that "He shall sustain you." Only lean on Him in quiet and confiding trust! Only strive to realize that the "Lord Himself is the portion of your inheritance and your cup" — and then, even although you may sometimes feel as one of the "solitary set in families," you may still joyfully exclaim, "I am not alone, because the Father is with me!"
Do not distress yourself with the thought that this feeling of which we have spoken — this yearning for sympathy — this thirst for
"Communings more full and high
Than anything by mortal known,"
is in itself sinful. It is not so. It is a part of your very self. It is nature's voice — and it will be heard. It has been implanted by an Almighty hand, for some wiser reason than we, in our short-sightedness, can discover. Perhaps that we may be thus the more readily taught to seek our happiness in the "only fountain of everlasting love." But it can never be satisfied here on earth. Human sympathy is precious — but it is still, in its very nature, imperfect — and, even when best intentioned, often misses its aim. There are sorrows which it cannot soothe! There are depths which it cannot fathom!
"Each in its hidden sphere of joy or woe,
Our hermit-spirits dwell, and range apart."
There they remain in solitude which no human voice can break. There they remain in darkness which no earthly light can brighten. It is well. The Savior's voice is but the more distinctly heard, "Fear not — for I am with you! Do not be dismayed, for I am your God." Christ points to the stream of human sympathy and human love, and says, "Whoever drinks of this water shall thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst!" Remember this. Keep it constantly before you, and you will be spared much suffering which you must inevitably experience if you look to this world for what it cannot give. Wait until faith and love are perfected. Wait until patience gains its full reward in the white robe and the unfading crown! Then, and then only, will your hopes be fulfilled. Then, and then only, will your dreams be realized — in the unfettered communion of the saints in light!
Do not forget, that if, from the peculiarly sensitive temperament with which you have been endowed, you are exposed to greater suffering — then you possess also a greater capacity for enjoyment than many others. If a very little thing can give you pain — then a very little thing can also minister to you the highest and purest pleasure. An affectionate word, a kindly or appreciating glance, which another might scarcely notice — how it thrills your very heart! How, for a time, it seems to gild your whole life with sunshine! How, even when the present enjoyment is over, does the thought of it still linger in your memory — its soothing influence retained, though years have passed away!
And then, the beauty of the natural world, how your spirit revels in it! The purple hill, the quiet valley, the flowers with their delicate penciling and sweet fragrances, the woods in their autumn glory — all these are to you like old and long-loved friends. To your ears there is no music so sweet as the low murmur of the brook, or the silvery rustle of the summer wind among the leaves; there is no sight so lovely as the golden dawn or fading sunset. In all these things you can see beauties which are hidden from other eyes — you can distinguish harmonies which are silent to other ears. They speak to your inmost soul — they touch the mind's harp, and every chord vibrates in answering rapture.
And in a thousand other ways, which it would be impossible to enumerate, your life is brightened and blessed, even by that very constitutional sensibility, which, in another sense, greatly diminishes its happiness. So that, if the cold and unfeeling can move composedly through the world, without being greatly annoyed by the "pin-pricks" they meet with in the way — they also pass carelessly by many a hidden spring of the purest and most intense delight. And even as the one counterbalances the other — so, also, the one cannot be separated from the other. If, therefore, you would escape from some sorrow — it must be at the cost of the joy which is linked with it.
We would, in conclusion, point you to the only true source of comfort "in all time of our tribulation" — the remembrance of the Savior's tenderness and love. In every struggle, in every feeling of weariness and weakness — His eye is upon you, and His arm is underneath you. Your name, yes, your name, reader — if, indeed, you have unreservedly given yourself to Him — is engraved on His heart, and for you He constantly pleads before the throne on high. In Him you may trust, and find Him an unfailing support — while every earthly confidence will fail and leave you desolate. His word is pledged to supply "all your needs" — and surely with this you can lack nothing!
He appoints for you exactly the discipline which is most needed, and which alone can fit and prepare you for the higher service of the temple above. And, while you are undergoing that discipline, He sustains you with the richest consolations of His grace — for He can be touched with the feeling of your infirmities, and has Himself drained to the very dregs the bitter cup of human woe. He has not forgotten His adopted one, but still can say of you, as in ancient times of His peculiar people, "I know your sorrows!" With such an assurance, what can you fear — even though the clouds may gather closer round you, and the onward path look dark and cheerless?
Be still, and trust! Every step brings you nearer to the rest of your Father's house, where the toils of the way shall be remembered no more. Look up, for the dawn is breaking! The darkness of this world's sorrow and loneliness shall pass away like a dream of the night — and the "days of your mourning shall be ended!"
The Hidden Cross
Notwithstanding all that has been said and written about the happiness of childhood and early youth — it is, nevertheless, true, that neither is beyond the influence of that decree, alike the just penalty and the consequence of sin, by which "man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward." The tear on the cheek of childhood scarcely flows before it is dried again — yet none can look back to their own early days, without feeling that the fountains of sorrow were none the less bitter for being easily stirred. The cloud may soon pass away, but, while it lasts, the whole sky is overshadowed.
And when childhood is exchanged for youth, who shall say that sorrow is also left behind? Surely its touch falls most heavily on the young and untried spirit, which the stern discipline of life has not yet taught to "suffer and be still!" How soon, how effectually, does reality dispel our bright visions of perfect happiness in our "teens!" There is no home so carefully guarded, that death may not enter it. A father's place may be left vacant — a mother's voice may be silent — a brother's manly form may be laid low — and even the gentle sister, in whose life your own seems to be bound up, may leave you to tread the wilderness path alone.
Sickness, too, may come. Days of pain and nights of weariness may be your portion. You may be painfully taught how difficult it is to struggle through the routine of daily duty, when, with languid pulse and aching head, and every nerve unstrung — each trifling annoyance seems to stir up all the impatience that is in you.
Perhaps you may be altogether laid aside; and, so, entirely prevented from openly showing your love and devotedness to the Master whom you serve. But if we are only hidden within the clefts of the smitten rock, no evil shall befall us. When loved ones are taken from us, we know that if they were united to Christ by living faith, we are separated only for a time, for they have but gone before us to the meeting place above. The gates of death are gilded by the light of resurrection hope, for "those who sleep in Jesus — God will bring with Him." We trace their footsteps in the path we tread, and from the home to which they have gone, they beckon us to "follow them, as they followed Christ." A message floats down to us, soft and clear as angels' music: "Do not be slothful, but followers of them, who, through faith and patience, now inherit the promises."
We look up from the narrow graves in which we have laid their mortal bodies, and smile through our tears at the blessed assurance that we may "go to them — though they may not return to us."
And in sickness, we may lean for support upon the arm of Him, who was Himself "perfected through suffering." His love and sympathy are at all times precious to His people — but never so much so as in the dark day when heart and flesh are failing. Then the world is shut out — and we are shut in alone with God. The things of eternity become more near, more real to us; for, as it has been remarked, "in sickness we live upon what in health we only talk about." We search into our own hearts, and feel more deeply the sin that stains them, and the iniquity that pollutes even our most "holy things."
Viewed in the light of the eternal world, they seem more dark to us than when seen through time's deceitful glare. Then we are driven afresh to the blood of atonement, and learn to rest, in more childlike faith, on the Savior's finished work. We feel that nothing else can sustain us — that nothing else can hear our weight.
The Holy Comforter, too, draws near, and His voice is heard when the din of earth is hushed, bringing to our remembrance the "great and precious promises" which, to us, are "Yes and Amen in Christ Jesus" — and applying them with a force and power such as we have never felt before. Surely such experience is worth gaining!
And there is work to be done in sickness too. The constant struggle against impatience and selfishness — the "offering up of our will to God" in the little trials which are so hard to bear — the watchfulness to speak a word for Christ which may, perhaps, be remembered when we are gone. All this is work, none the less real because it is what few can perceive, but is done in silence, "as unto Christ."
"Those also serve — who only stand and wait;" and, if the waiting is only done in a working spirit, it is acknowledged as an acceptable offering. It is less pleasing to the flesh than the bustle and excitement of outside service, and is, therefore, more pleasing to our Great Master. It is purer, higher, holier, than even the active duty in which there is much danger of self-seeking.
"To be a follower of Christ," says MacDuff, "does not require huge sacrifices — brilliant displays of heroic suffering. I believe the Savior is most honored by those who bear most meekly what I might call little crosses — who, not in the great battle-field of the world, but in the quiet of their own homes, exhibit the lowly, submissive, patient spirit of cross-bearing disciples." This, also, is part of the discipline by which we are "made fit for the inheritance of the saints in light."
But it is not of these trials that we wish chiefly to speak. There are others, less visible, but not less bitter. There are few, even of those seemingly beings whose feet yet linger on the threshold of life, who have not known its hidden mystery of joy and sorrow. The trials of childhood pass over and are forgotten; the trials of youth leave an impress upon the life. They stir up the very depths of our being, and awaken us to a knowledge of that fearful power which is bound up in our mysterious nature, "the soul's capability to suffer." It is no light matter to have early hopes withered, and the heart's first fresh tide of warm and tender feeling crushed back again upon itself. Yet it is an ordeal which few escape. Few but can look back on the time when
"The hopes of youth fell thick in the blast,
And the days were dark and dreary!"
We do not say so that it must be. There is no doubt that careful watching and steady self-control may prevent, if exercised in time, much subsequent misery. We have no sympathy with those sentimental damsels, the readers of Byron, and "yellow-colored literature," who are always imagining themselves the victims of unrequited love, and delight in bewailing their self-created misery. But a woman's heart is a wild and wayward thing, and too often it is her lot to "make idols — and to find them clay!" There is in the youthful mind, a yearning for something strong on which to rest itself — for some prop, around which the clinging tendrils of its affections may be entwined. And often, when it has been found — it is again quickly removed, and the fibers of the heart are left, torn and bleeding. Is there no bitterness in this — no misery?
But, though the cloud may be dark — it has a "silver lining." It is a message to you, dear reader, from your Father's heart of love — to remind you that you are not yet where tears are dried forever. Take it as it comes, directly from Him, and do not bewilder yourself by looking at second causes.
Without His permission, "not a sparrow falls to the ground!" Every minute circumstance of your life is ordered in His providence. And though it is a sorrow with which a "stranger may not meddle with" — a wound which no human hand may heal — there is the most tender sympathy, the most unfailing love — in that Savior who still retains, in glory, the loving human heart which once He wore on earth. To Him the hidden grief is unveiled — and in His bosom may the aching heart find rest. If He sends affliction — He sends strength with it. If He "allures you into the wilderness" — it is that He may "speak comfortably unto you." His voice is heard above the storm, and it is a voice of peace.
But the trial has its lessons — and they are lessons rich in blessing.
It teaches us to sympathize. We must ourselves go down into the deep waters — that we may hereafter be enabled to speak words of encouragement and hope to those who are overwhelmed by the storm. We can show them that there is a strong foundation on which to rest, and that, even when the waves and the billows pass over us, the Rock of Ages is beneath our feet.
God has need of "reapers with sharp sickles," and if we are to be successful laborers in the Vineyard, we must know how to touch, with a skillful hand, the most delicate chords of the human heart. It is only by personal suffering that we can be fitted to "strengthen our brethren," and to hear a rejoicing testimony to the faithfulness of Him whom we know to be a "very present help in times of trouble." Many a weary-hearted one may be afresh inspired with hope and energy by the healing sympathy of a "companion in tribulation," who can point to the only true source of strength, and minister the same comfort with which she has herself has been "comforted by God."
Another lesson which this peculiar form of trial seems specially designed to teach, is unselfishness. We must not infect others with our own sadness, or cast from our own darkened hearts one shadow over those we love. Cheerfully must the hidden cross be borne, and borne in silence. It is not in selfish withdrawing from the social and relative duties of life — but in bravely fulfilling them, that the secret of peace is to be found. Still you can be the sunshine of home — though your own spirit may be cheerless and dark. It will soon grow brighter, for the effort to promote the happiness of others, must have a reflex influence upon yourself, and there is joy and gladness in the thought that even yet you may be enabled to fulfill a lowly ministry of blessing.
But this brings another quality into exercise, namely, self-control. It is one which sorrow alone can impart — and those who have not acquired it, have acquired but little. The struggle to keep back the surging tides of emotion, to conceal the aching heart beneath a cloudless brow and a tearless eye — is one for which, in after years, you will have cause to be most thankful. And, if it is true that those only can beneficially influence others, who have learned to control themselves — then, surely, we may well desire such knowledge, however dearly it may be bought!
We must not shrink from any discipline by which we may be prepared for the work we have to do. So you cannot but rejoice if your present trial sobers and calms you, sufficiently to enable you, by and bye, to be one of the quiet ones, whose influence gladdens many a home, and teaches many a throbbing, anxious heart, how those who have been trained in Christ's school can pass through life more calmly, patiently, and happily — than others, who seem always laboring for their own ends, anxious about this, fearful about that, forgetting that they are not to be their own guides.
England still remembers the gallant conduct of some of her troops in the Crimea, who, when at Alma, marched in front of a galling fire until within about twenty paces of the enemy, and then fired. That was true bravery. It showed cool courage, determination, steadiness. But, depend upon it, those brave fellows had been well drilled. And we believe that the same sterling courage and endurance may be found among the softer gender. But not among those who have passed their girlhood in gaiety and folly — so much as those whom early sorrow has early trained.
There must be self-discipline — self-conquest. There must be a development of those deeper and stronger qualities of a woman's nature, without which she must ever remain a weak and changeful thing — swayed by every passing impulse, and utterly unfitted for the duties of sister, friend, or wife. And in no school can these be so well cultivated as in the school of suffering.
Nothing (we speak, of course, of secondary means only) will so greatly tend to dissipate the cloud which hangs over you — as full and constant occupation. Whether it be engagement in intellectual pursuits, or self-denying exertion for others — you will find it the most unfailing safeguard against melancholy and wretchedness. As painful as the effort may be, it will bring with it a rich reward. We must not bend helplessly before the storm, or fold our hands in the listlessness of despair — but fight the daily battle, with a brave and earnest purpose, looking ever upward and onward! Upward to the ever-present Savior whose strength is "made perfect in weakness!" Onward, to the blessed rest, where "sorrow and sighing shall flee away."
Do not, then, give yourself up to idle and morbid regrets. Wait patiently — the victory will come at last, though the struggle may be long and weary. Those who have never known what it is to suffer — have never known what it is to live. The idols must be broken, the flesh must be crucified, the quivering heart must be laid as an offering upon the altar of sacrifice. It is a bitter cup — but it is mingled by a Father's hand — it is dipped in the blood of the Elder Brother!
Do not be afraid, then, but be of good courage, for, by the grace given from above — woman's feeble nature is made strong. You tread no solitary path; it is marked by the "footsteps of the flock." Nay, more precious than any human sympathy, is the thought, that He who the chief sufferer — can feel for you, and feel with you. The Savior's eye is upon you. His arm can uphold the fainting spirit. His voice can speak peace to the troubled heart. He draws near in the day when earthly comforters avail not, and whispers, in tones of tenderest pity and compassion, "Be of good cheer, it is I! Do not be afraid!" His hand binds up the bleeding wound, pouring into it the healing balm of "His own unutterable peace."
Rest, then, in the Lord; for, however outward circumstances may distress you, there is peace for you in His presence. "When He gives quietness — then who can make trouble?"
"In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence — and His children shall have a place of refuge." How gracious is the assurance; how full is the promise! "Confidence," in One who will never disappoint! "A place of refuge," where storm and tempest can never enter!
His redeemed children are those over whom the shield of His protecting providence is ever thrown, to guard them from every danger. They are the objects of His peculiar care, and in whose sorrow He sympathizes with a father's heart. Surely, we may well "comfort one another with these words," and, peacefully confiding in that faithful guidance which will not fail to lead us aright, may "go on our way rejoicing!"
At present, many things seem mysterious and perplexing. There are many problems which we cannot solve — many questions to which we can only reply, that, as yet, we "know but in part." But in the full light of that hereafter glory which awaits us, we shall see that every step in our path has conducted towards the "City of habitation" — that every link in the chain of life has been one of infinite mercy.
The discipline of daily life, with all its varied experience of shade and sunshine — forms the training which is to render us fit for the abode of perfect purity and peace. The living stone must here be hewn and polished for the place which it is designed to fill in the heavenly temple — since no sound of axe or hammer is to be heard therein. And, if the engraver's tool seems sometimes to cut into the very life, let us remember what it is preparing us for, and quiet ourselves with the assurance that the great Master-builder will not inflict one unnecessary stroke.
Even as this present life is the time of training for an eternal future — so, also, the early part of it is a course of preparation for that which is to follow. The trials of youth, with its strong feelings, its quick impulses, its unsubdued will — are fitting us to endure those yet heavier sorrows which await us in maturer years. Those feelings must be restrained and regulated; those impulses must be placed under the control of a governing principle; that strong will must be tamed and broken — or future days will bring with them a burden, well-near crushing in its weight!
When, by early trial, we have been taught the "secret of enduring strength" — when we have exchanged our weapons of rebellion, for the Savior's light and easy yoke — we are enabled to receive, with submission, from our Father's hand, the cross which He sees it needful we should bear. We can then feel that unerring Wisdom can choose for us, infinitely better than we could do for ourselves; and say, even though with quivering lip and tearful eye, "Not my will — but may Your will be done."
When the fever of life is over, and the quiet light of eventide sheds its mild radiance around us; when we walk by the brink of the dark river, and see, by the eye of faith, the "shining ones" on the other side — we shall look back, oh, how gratefully! upon all the way by which the Lord our God has led us through this earthly wilderness, and bless Him most for that which once seemed hardest to bear. We shall "set to our seal" to every promise; and acknowledge that "not one thing has failed" of all that the "Faithful and True Witness" has spoken concerning us! And how much more, when the shadows have fled, and the mists have dispersed, beneath the clear shining of that Sun which shall go down no more forever!
Be patient, then, dear reader, alike in suffering and in service. Both will soon be ended — for, behold, the "Bridegroom is at the door!" Are you ready, watching, waiting — whenever the midnight summons shall be heard? Are your loins girded? Is your lamp burning? Are you prepared to join in the exulting cry with which a waiting church shall welcome back her long-loved Lord, "Lo, this is our God! We have waited for Him, and He will save us! This is the Lord, we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation."
Remember, the Word is as sure, as the God who has uttered it is true. He must come suddenly; He may come soon. By all the terrors of that last great day, when the "heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, when the earth, also, and the works that are therein, shall be burnt up" — we would, once more, affectionately entreat you to give all diligence in making your "calling and election sure;" so that, whether you are summoned by death into the presence of God — or, with your bodily eyes see Him come in clouds of glory, you may equally be able to say:
"Jesus, Your blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
'Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head!"
Do not think that your present position is without responsibilities. "The young ladies of the present generation," says a living writer, "seem to pass in review before me, with all their privileges, and in all their grace and beauty. Let them not feel that they have only to seek embellishment, to sip from the honey-cup of life, or to glitter like the meteor in a summer's eve. For, as surely as the safety and prosperity of a nation depend on the virtue of its people — those who reign in the retreats where man turns for his comfort, who have power over the machinery which stamps on the infant mind its character of good or evil — are responsible, to a fearful extent, for that safety and prosperity."
And more solemn than any other, is the thought, that when nations shall have ceased to be, and all that now seems great and noble shall have vanished like the shadow of a dream — the consequences of our smallest actions will remain, to gather in an eternal harvest of happiness or woe. Which shall it be? Shall we "sow to the flesh — and from the flesh reap corruption?" Or, shall we "sow to the Spirit — and from the Spirit reap life everlasting?"