RELIGION IN EARNEST.
A MEMORIAL OF MRS. MARY LYTH, OF YORK.
BY HER SON JOHN LYTH.
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF MY BELOVED SISTER ELIZA HILL, WHOSE RARE AND UNOSTENTATIOUS VIRTUES SHED FRAGRANCE ON EARTH, BUT ARE ONLY RECORDED IN HEAVEN.
In compiling the following sheets, the Author has discharged what he felt to be an act, not merely of filial affection, but of Christian duty. To his deceased and venerated Mother he owes more than words can express;—a Mother whose consistent example, earnest piety and frequent effectual prayers, perhaps even more than her oft-repeated counsels, produced upon his mind, while yet a child, the settled conviction that religion is the one business of life. But be believes it also due to the cause of Christ, that an example of "Religion in Earnest," so pre-eminent, should not pass unrecorded and unimproved.
Those who think the charm of biography consists in startling incident; or who seek for material to gratify a literary taste, will discover here little to meet their respective views. We have only to offer them a simple record of one, whose history possessed no romantic interest, and who made no pretension to intellectual attainments. But such as love to trace the development of Divine grace in the human heart, and to see its power uniformly exemplified in the several phases of every-day life;—who are willing to learn how much may be accomplished by decision, simplicity of purpose, and undeviating consistency;—in a word, how every Christian even in private life, may become a centre of happiness, life and power, are in this volume presented with no common illustration.
The method of arrangement which the writer has adopted has been determined, partly by his materials, and partly by the desire to render his subject practical as well as interesting. How far he has succeeded must be decided by the impression made upon the mind of the reader. He now commends his work to God, who alone can give success to every good purpose, earnestly praying that Christ, who was magnified in the life of his now sainted mother, may be yet more abundantly magnified in her death.
Stetten, O.A. Cannstatt, Wuerttemberg.
December 27th, 1860.
IV.—THE HOLY ESTATE
V.—SHOWER AND SUNSHINE
VI.—GROWTH IN GRACE
X.—WORKS OF MERCY
XI.—A DYING SCENE
XIII.—THE REDEMPTION OF THE PROMISE
XIV.—POWER WITH GOD
XVII.—THE MOTHER IN ISRAEL
XVIII.—LIGHT IN DARKNESS
XIX.—THE INWARD MONITOR
XXII.—THE LIGHTS AND SHADOWS OF EVENING
XXIII.—SLEEP IN JESUS
"A GOOD MAN LEAVETH AN INHERITANCE TO HIS CHILDREN'S CHILDREN." Prov. xiii. 22.
Within the grounds attached to the mansion of the Earl of Harewood, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, is a substantial and well-built farm house, furnished with suitable outbuildings, and surrounded by a fine cluster of fruit-trees. It stands on the side of a hill, which slopes gently down to the river Wharfe, and commands a prospect, which, though not extensive, is singularly picturesque. In front, a little to the right, the ruined fortress of Harewood peeps out of a scattered wood, which crowns the summit of the hill, and shelters one of the neatest and trimmest villages in England. On the left flows the beautiful Wharfe but soon loses itself among the adjacent heights. Behind, towers the logan of Arlmes cliff, an interesting relic of druidical skill and superstition; while Riffa wood and Ottley Shevin complete the beauty of the landscape. A row of trees, protected by a lofty wall, effectually conceals the house we have mentioned, from the highroad, which for some distance runs at the foot of the hill and almost parallel to the river. Formerly there was only a sandy lane, which passed immediately in front of the house, and winding up the hill, entered the village between the castle and the church. From this circumstance the adjoining farm was called Sandygate, but with the changes that have taken place, the appellation is now almost forgotten, although the house still retains the name of its original occupant, and is known in the neighbourhood as 'Stables House.'
Just a hundred years ago, this house was built for the accommodation of Wm. Stables, a wealthy yeoman, who resided at Heatherwick (now Stanke), about a mile from Harewood; and who, successful in the cultivation of his paternal acres, sought to extend his interests by renting the farm of Sandygate. His removal was however unpropitious to his domestic happiness; for entering the new house before it was fully fit for occupation, his wife, already in a delicate state of health, took cold and died; leaving him with four children, the eldest of whom was six years old, and the youngest but an infant. Mr. S. is said to have been a shrewd and sensible man, of strict morals and unbending integrity; but withal stern and inflexible in disposition, pharisaic, and a bigoted churchman. His punctuality in the performance of outward religious duties, and the regular payment of his dues, with now and then a fat sheep given to the poor, secured him among his neighbours the reputation of being a good Christian. As might be supposed, his children were trained with great severity, and educated in the straitest sect of their religion. Collect and catechism were duly committed to memory, prayers regularly read in the family, the Sabbath rigorously observed, a stiff and precise order reigned through the whole household; but it wanted the charm and life of spiritual feeling. As the children grew up to maturity, this state of things was destined to be changed by the introduction of a new and unwelcome element, which seriously disturbed the never too profound tranquillity of the old man. Mary, the youngest child, whose mind had gradually opened to the truth, although so defectively communicated, became deeply convinced of sin under the ministry of Mr. Jackson, the parish clergyman; and so painful and vivid were her views of her miserable condition, that she cried aloud for mercy in the church. Her father was deeply concerned for her, but, as he was ignorant of spiritual religion, he was utterly at a loss to understand her feelings. As a last resource he sent for the minister, but with no better result, for he too, frankly confessed that he did not understand the sorrow of which he had been the unwitting occasion. A specimen of this gentleman's ability to administer spiritual counsel and direction is recorded in the characteristic autobiography of Richard Burdsall. "Visiting Mr. Stables in his last illness Mr. Jackson asked him how he did. Mr. S. replied, 'Sir, I am a miserable sinner.' 'Do not say you are a miserable sinner,' replied the Reverend gentleman, 'for you are a good man.' Mr. S. answered, 'O, Mr. Jackson, I am a miserable sinner.' To this the parson replied, 'if you will be a miserable sinner you are like to be a miserable sinner,' and so came no more."
Mary was thus left to seek relief and comfort where she could; and having heard of the Methodists, who held a meeting every Sabbath in a house about a mile distant from Harewood, she secretly resolved to attend, if possibly, she might find the hidden peace, which she had hitherto sought in vain. Here she met with a few humble but sincere persons, who could sympathise with her state of mind; and from whom she received such instruction and encouragement, that, not long after while pleading with God in the secrecy of her chamber, she obtained 'redemption through the blood of Christ, even the forgiveness of sins.' Much to the chagrin of her father, she now became an avowed Methodist; and was subjected to the petty persecution, which usually awaits the first in a family that embraces vital godliness. On one occasion, her father locked her out of the house; and, on another, threatened to shoot her, but she remained firm to her profession; until at length, her consistent and steady deportment was rewarded by the conversion of her two brothers, John and William, and also of two of the servants. The increased displeasure of the old gentleman was signally exhibited. Afraid lest Elizabeth his eldest daughter should also become a Methodist, he resolved at once to free his house from all possibility of infection. The two servants were dismissed without ceremony; and the three delinquents banished to a farm, which he had purchased, at Kirkby Overblow, a few miles distant. These precautions were useless. The removal of her sister and brothers, together with the occasion of their banishment, so much affected Elizabeth, that in fact it contributed to the result it was intended to prevent. So foolish and vain are the thoughts of men when they attempt to arrest the operations of the Spirit of God. Isolated and freed from control, the young converts were now left to obey the dictates of conscience without further opposition. In their new home they were thrown more directly in contact with the Methodists, and especially formed acquaintance with Richard Burdsall, with whose class they at once connected themselves.
Richard Burdsall was one of those bold and distinctive characters, whose sterling piety and ardent zeal shining forth from under a rude exterior, gave such peculiar lustre to the age of early Methodism; and indicated an agency, specially raised by God, to break up the fallow ground and clear away the thorns, that the incorruptible seed of truth might find a soil congenial to its germination and growth. His conversion, which occurred at the age of twenty, was accompanied by indubitable proofs of its reality; and instantly followed up by entire consecration to God. The path of usefulness soon opened out before him; and in spite of 'fightings without and fears within,' he pursued it with undeviating integrity to the close of a protracted life. His shrewdness and originality of thought, quaint and pointed method of expression, combined with such an intimate acquaintance with the word of God, that some said he had the scriptures at his fingers' ends, and others nicknamed him 'old chapter and verse;' and above all, his known integrity and uncompromising zeal for the glory of God, amply compensated for the want of cultivation, and rendered him as a lay preacher so exceedingly popular and useful, that he was repeatedly solicited to enter a higher sphere, and devote himself to the work of the ministry. He was twice appointed by Mr. Wesley to the York circuit, in which he was resident; and in six different instances, invited to take charge of independent congregations; but, although he so far yielded to the request of the former as to make the experiment for nine months, he voluntarily retired, under the conviction that he was called to occupy an humbler but not less useful sphere. His labours, which were extended over a considerable part of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, were blessed by God to the salvation of thousands. By day toiling at the vice or the anvil, and by night preaching the glad tidings of the Gospel, his life was spent,
"'Twixt the mount and multitude Doing and receiving good"
until, within a fortnight of his death, at the advanced age of eighty-eight, he delivered his last discourse, and died shouting "Victory, Victory," through the blood of the Lamb.
At the period of oar narrative Mr. B. resided at Kearby, about a mile from the Kirkby farm, where he soon became a frequent and welcome visitor; and by his counsels and example, contributed much to confirm the faith and piety of its inmates. The two brothers became useful local preachers, and remained faithful unto death; and with Mary commenced an intimacy, which, notwithstanding considerable difference of age and circumstances, was ultimately consummated in marriage. The story of the courtship is amusing and characteristic. Mary was fair to look upon, and having moreover the prospect of a handsome fortune, commanded many admirers. One day when several of these aspirants for her hand were present, Mr. B. stepped in, and, perceiving how matters were going, quietly slipped behind her and whispered, 'I mean to have thee myself'. This abrupt avowal had the desired effect. The blooming damsel preferred the widower with four children, though twice her own age, to younger but not more worthy suitors; a decision she never had occasion to regret.
The engagement thus strangely brought to a crisis, was not entered into without much serious forethought and prayer. The path of Providence was distinctly indicated, and there remained but one obstacle in the way of the proposed union, and that was to secure the consent of Mr. Stables; which, to quote Mr. Burdsall's own words, "'to me appeared like asking him for his life'. I was however providentially helped out of this difficulty; for as I was returning from preaching one morning, I met him in a narrow lane at some distance from his own house. When he saw me, he turned round as though he would not meet me. The lane being strait, he took hold of my mare and said, 'What are you a riding preacher now'? I answered, 'To be sure I am, for you see I am upon my mare'. He then said, 'Are my sons right, think you, when they can go to a public house and drink with people and pay nothing'? I replied, 'You are not to give credit to what the world says of us Methodists, or of your sons. I believe your sons fear the Lord, and are wishful to do what is right'. He said, 'Well, he that endureth to the end the same shall be saved'. I replied, 'That is God's word, but it will not suit every one'. He then wished to know whom it would not suit. I answered, 'It will not suit the unregenerate, for were I to tell sinners, that if they endured to the end in their sins they should be saved, I should lie; for they cannot be saved if they do: neither will it suit the self-righteous, for the word of God says, 'Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven'. What I said, seemed to carry conviction to his mind. He said, 'They say you are a good preacher, I shall come and hear you'. 'I should be glad to see you', replied I, 'but I fear your master will not let you come'. We then proceeded towards his house in friendly conversation, and when we were just going to part he said, 'They say you are going to marry my daughter.' I answered, 'I doubt they grieve you with, it.' He said, 'Nay, not at all, for my daughter shall marry whom she likes.' 'You speak very honourably,' said I, 'if you only stand to your word.' To this he replied, 'I will, she shall marry whom she likes.' I said to him, 'I will make you this promise, that I will not marry your daughter for the sake of her fortune, for I do not believe you will give me any with her. If I can be assured that it is of the Lord, I will marry her though you turn her into the street destitute; and, without this persuasion, I would not marry her though you were to give her your whole estate to do so: therefore do not blame me.' He said, 'I cannot,' and we parted." Notwithstanding this plain conversation, Mr. Stables was highly displeased with the match, and offered to give his daughter an additional portion on condition that she would not prosecute it; adding, "If you do, I'll give you sixpence a-week, and you may go about singing Methodist songs."
On their marriage, which took place shortly after, Mr. and Mrs. Burdsall removed to York. The offended father, true to his word, sent his daughter forth literally destitute; not even permitting her to take her personal apparel. It was not until twelve months had elapsed, that any further communication took place. The interview is thus related by Mr. Burdsall in his own quaint style. "I happened to be passing near his house as he was going from it; on my calling to him, he asked what I wanted with him. I said, 'I want to know what place you mean me to have in heaven?' He smiled, and asked, 'Do you mean to go there?' 'I hope so,' said I. He then asked me why I had married his daughter. I told him, because I loved her and thought she would make me a good wife. I added, 'You know, sir, that I told you before I married her, that I would not marry her for the sake of her fortune; neither have I, I do not expect any, the Lord blesses us without any, and he will still continue to bless us.' He acknowledged the truth of what I said, and we parted." The fire of wrath was still smouldering in the heart of the old man, and awakened in the mind of Mrs. Burdsall feelings of painful anxiety, especially, as it was apparent, that life was ebbing fast to its close. Mr. B. therefore, a short time after, addressed a kind but faithful letter to him on the great subject of salvation, and concluded with these remarkable and expressive words, "I have no other reason for writing to you, that I know of, than this, that the sun is going down." This produced no immediate effect, only, whenever they met, Mr. Stables would say, "You write parables to me." The allusion however so appositely and wisely put, like an arrow directed to the mark, had fastened upon his conscience, and was secretly undermining the strength of long and obstinately-cherished resentment. The marksman was skilful, but still better, a man of "fervent effectual prayer." "As a Prince he had power with God and with men, and prevailed," for "when a man's ways please the Lord He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him." So it turned out. Mr. Burdsall says, "One time, as I was returning home from preaching at a distant place in a very wet cold and hungry state, and as night was coming on, having to pass his residence, I thought I would call and see if he would receive me. I knocked at the door, and he himself opened it. Seeing me he called his eldest daughter and said, 'Here is thy brother, come and take his horse.' I alighted and went in. He then accosted me as he had done once before, asking, 'What are you a riding preacher now?' I answered, 'To be sure I am; for I have ridden from York to Seacroft, and from thence to your house.' 'Well,' said he, 'I know you live well.' I replied, 'We do; but I have not lived so well to day as I might have done; for I feel rather hungry.' He smiled, and bid his daughter put on the tea kettle. We then entered into conversation, in which he said, 'You write parables to me, for you told me the sun was going down.' I answered, 'I did so, and my reason for it was, I knew I had stirred up your wrath in marrying your daughter against your mind, and was fearful lest the sun should go down upon it.' He burst into a flood of tears, and was so melted down, that for three hours, I was prompted both by his feelings and my own to speak of the love of Christ to poor sinners. * * * This was a night to be remembered as my reconciliation with Mr. Stables was at this time effected." The understanding thus happily brought about was never after interrupted; and Mr. Stables practically evinced the sincerity of his feelings by securing to his daughter an annuity for life. In his last illness, which occurred a few years later, Mr. Burdsall, by his own request, frequently visited him, and ministered to his spiritual wants. He died in peace on the 13th of June, 1787.
The first fruits of the union of Richard Burdsall and Mary Stables, was Mary, the subject of the present memoir—the step-sister of the Rev. John Burdsall, who still survives. She was born at York, without Bootham bar, June 19th, 1782. The house which no longer exists, stood just under the shadow of the old gateway, nearly opposite the modern crescent, known as St. Leonard's Place.
The foregoing facts, which to some may appear superfluous, are here introduced not merely with the view of making the reader acquainted with the antecedents of my honoured mother; but the much higher object of illustrating the sovereign mercy of God, and tracing the growth of the religious element in the family. Many a page deeply interesting and instructive might be written which would unfold the grace of God in the history of particular families, flowing as a stream of light from generation to generation, or diffusing itself in the collateral branches; here swelling as "broad rivers and streams," and there narrowed down to a single channel. The causes of such alternations might be profitably investigated, and recorded. The inquiry into one's ancestry would thus answer a nobler purpose than the gratification of human vanity, or the recovery of an alienated inheritance; it would exhibit the influence of the past upon the present, afford important lessons of encouragement or admonition, and discover our claim perhaps, to something better than gold or silver "for the good man" even though he is poor, "leaveth an inheritance to his children's children." How far the moral character as well as the physical constitution of a parent may affect the happiness and control the destiny of his children, is a question, which may be incapable of an exact and satisfactory solution; but the general fact, notwithstanding some strange exceptions, (which however may not be altogether incapable of explanation,) is sufficiently established, that examples of singular excellence, or notorious profligacy may usually he traced to seeds sown in a former generation. They are not therefore to be altogether regarded in the light of isolated phenomena, but as the result of causes, which may be more or less accurately determined. At all events, God reveals himself as "a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate him, and SHEWING MERCY UNTO THOUSANDS OF THEM THAT LOVE HIM AND KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS."
"THOU HAST HID THESE THINGS FROM THE WISE AND PRUDENT AND HAST REVEALED THEM UNTO BABES." Matt. xi. 25.
What solemn interest surrounds the dawn of immortal existence,—that precious portion of human life, the first four or five years, which may be termed the perceptive period, too often treated as a mere blank, in which nothing is to be attempted; when the soul is all eye, all ear, continually storing up in an almost faultless memory, impressions, which go far to mould the future character, and which reason, so soon as it is able, will certainly use as part of the material out of which it must form its conclusions! How much of the future depends upon the kind of influence to which the infant mind is subjected! Happily for Mary Burdsall these early years were carefully watched and guarded. The bold and uncompromising character of her father, and the gentle piety of her mother, secured to her a combination of influences particularly favourable to the development of moral and religious feeling. Lessons of truth and love, as yet beyond the comprehension of the child, were effectively taught by means of bright and living examples; and hence grace began to operate with the first unfoldings of reason.
Her earliest recollections were associated with the farm at Sandygate. When about four years old, her grandfather Stables, now reconciled to his daughter, proposed to undertake the charge of Mary's training and education. This arrangement was overruled, providentially as it would seem; for Mr. S., although strictly moral and religious in his way, was a stranger to experimental godliness, and only obtained the knowledge of the truth in his last moments. The occasion of her return to her parents was probably his increasing age and infirmity, as the only impression she retained of him in after life was that of a somewhat crusty and ill-tempered old man, with a huge bobwig, who always laid in bed. His last words to her, which were vividly impressed upon her mind, were, that it was a pity she should go home to be spoiled by Methodism. The few months she spent at Sandygate were not however without some good and permanent result. Her aunt Elizabeth, who was scripturally enlightened, and in a great measure free from other engagements, solicitously occupied herself in endeavouring to impress her tender heart with divine truth. From her lips she learned to lisp the Lord's prayer, the Apostles' creed, several of Watts' divine songs, and in particular the hymn commencing
"How vain are all things here below."
With reference to this period she says in her journal:—"The spirit of God strove with me when but a little child. One time, I remember, while repeating my prayers to my aunt, the grace of God shone so sweetly upon me, I was melted down into tenderness before the Lord; and it seemed as if the glory of the Lord shone round about me, while I repeated the well-known hymn
'Glory to Thee, my God, this night.'
At another time, the Spirit of prayer was so poured upon me my sleep for a season fled. Thus the Lord brooded upon my infant mind. Glory be to his adorable name!"
Shortly after her return to York she heard the venerable founder of Methodism preach in Peaseholm Green Chapel; and though at that early age incompetent to retain any recollection of the sermon, his saintly appearance made on her imagination a vivid impression, which was perpetuated through life, and often mentioned in the family circle with the liveliest feelings of pleasure. On this occasion, the last on which he preached in York, Mr. Wesley appears to have been in one of his happiest moods, as he remarks in his journal, "The word was as fire, and all that heard it seemed to feel the power thereof;" a circumstance which no doubt greatly contributed to fix the memory of his features upon the mind of a child so young. And still more so, as the venerable man, on descending from the pulpit, placed his hand upon her head, and gave her his blessing. The Rev. J. Burdsall, who was also present, once communicated to the writer an amusing and interesting incident, that happened in course of the service, which illustrates Mr. Wesley's love of harmony, even when, he had lost the power to create it. It is well known that he delighted to hear the men and women each take their proper part in congregational singing; but it seems in this instance, the men in the warmth of their feelings had transgressed the limits assigned them. Mr. W., whose ear was offended by the slightest discord, somewhat sharply rebuked them. As this failed to produce the desired amendment, he stopped again, and said, "Listen to brother Masterman," who was at that time the leading singer. Still dissatisfied, he stopped a third time, and said, "Listen to me," at the same time taking up the strain, but as his voice was cracked, and broken with age, it afforded such a miserable example as to excite a general titter.
As a child Mary was distinguished by unusual vivacity of disposition, and her fondness for fun and frolic often betrayed her into trouble. At times she was wilful and passionate,—a spirit wisely checked by her mother, whose discipline was equally strict and judicious. Such ebullitions were transient, and invariably followed by feelings of regret and sorrow. Adverting to this subject in after life she said with deep gratitude, "I had a good mother and father to keep me in, and restraining grace." On several occasions her life was placed in imminent peril, and, but for that merciful providence, which specially watches over the "little ones," she must have fallen a victim to her thoughtlessness. One of these occurred when she was at school; where, by some means her dress caught fire; happily the smoke and smell of burning attracted the attention of her teacher who rushed to her rescue, and succeeded in extinguishing the flames, but not until her outer garments were completely consumed. Her education was very slender, being confined to the simplest rudiments of human knowledge,—a circumstance she often regretted, although in after life the disadvantage was in a great measure overcome by diligent and select reading.
When about eight years of age, the development of her early religious feelings received a partial check through the pernicious influence of a servant girl, who perceiving her love for singing, taught her, without the knowledge of her parents, a number of foolish songs. Two years later she gave decided indications of serious thought. She began to take pleasure in being alone, and acquired a remarkable love of solitude, which characterized her through life,—a feeling which was strengthened by reading an article in one of the early "Arminian Magazines." Sometimes she would steal off to the cottage of a pious old churchwoman of the name of Halifax, who lived at a short distance from her father's house; and listened with delight, while the good old lady read to her out of the Psalms, and talked about heavenly things. On one of these occasions she was so deeply affected by a sense of her sinfulness and accountability, that pointing to the cat which lay by the fireside, she exclaimed, "I wish I was that cat;" and when asked why, replied, "Because it has not a soul to save." The old lady gently rebuked the foolish thought, and, shewing her its wickedness, endeavoured to lead her to Him, who said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me." Not long after she began to meet in her father's class, and received her first ticket at the hands of the Rev. Francis Wrigley, at that time Superintendent of the York circuit. By weekly intercourse with the people of God, her aspirations after divine sources of happiness gradually strengthened until she was twelve years old, when they assumed a more definite form; although, in consequence of her tender age, her views of evangelical truth were necessarily crude and defective; for she still "spake as a child, understood as a child, reasoned as a child," It was during a few days' visit to her aunt Elizabeth, who now resided in the suburbs of York, having married Mr. J. Hawkins of that city shortly after her father's death, that she became so unhappy on account of her sinful and miserable condition, that she could not refrain from much weeping. The thought of entering eternity without a change of heart filled her with alarm. Every looming cloud had a voice which spoke of the judgment to come; every unpropitious event awakened painful forebodings. Her fears, which were the genuine fruits of divine influence, were further aggravated by the popular excitement of the times. France was threatening war with England, and the prevailing apprehensions of the multitude communicated themselves with double force to the heart of the sorrowing child. "What," thought she, "if they should come now, and I should be killed in my sins." Indeed her trouble increased to such a degree that her aunt was grieved, imagining that her mother would think she had been unkindly treated. She therefore resolved to take her home. On the way a number of circumstances occurred which to Mary's childish imagination were pregnant with evil, and prognosticated nothing less than the day of general doom. The city was in a state of unusual commotion, a report had gained ground that the invader was at hand, some foolish person had caused the massive portcullis of the city gate to be let down, several recruiting parties were parading the streets, two of these she met, and the shrill blasts of a few mounted trumpeters, together with a dense and portentous cloud, which just at the moment spread itself upon the horizon, completed her dismay. She reached home in tears. Her mother, whose solicitude was awakened, inquired the cause. She replied, "Mother, I can't tell you, but nothing in this world will make me happy." Suspecting the real state of her feelings, her mother conversed kindly with her, and administered suitable consolation, but in vain. After committing herself to God in earnest prayer, she retired to rest with the conviction, that she was the greatest sinner in the world; but the next morning, which was the holy Sabbath, broke upon her with healing in its wings. She awoke with the words in her mind,
"What a blessing to know that my Jesus is mine."
Her soul was immediately filled with a calm sweet joy, which she was unable to describe. She arose from her bed, and went to the house of God, her heart still glowing with these newly awakened emotions; and while on her way thought within herself, "O that I had a voice that would reach to all the world, I would tell them how happy I am." This occurred on the 12th of February, 1795. But the transport of her feelings, after enduring for a season, at length subsided; yet not without leaving a permanent though perhaps not easily defined impression. It may be asked was this conversion? was it genuine? and in a child so young? We answer it would be very difficult to prove that it was not. One thing is certain, that from this time there was a settled purpose to serve the Lord, which spite of fluctuating feeling and periods of wintry coldness was steadily kept in view; ever and anon gathering strength until it ripened into maturity. The sapling, because it bends to the breeze is not therefore destitute of life; unless it be torn up by the roots, or scorched and withered by the noon-day sun, or absolutely frozen by the winter's cold, it will gradually wax and grow until its massive trunk is able to bid defiance to the storm. Conversing on this subject with one of her children at a late period in life, when her judgment was matured, and her views of divine truth rendered more clear by her approximation to a better world, she said, "I lost my peace because I grieved the Lord by a trifling disposition, but the Lord did not leave me;" then, employing the language of the lamented David Stoner, she added, "I have been converted a hundred times." To another of her children, after using similar language she said with peculiar, emphasis, "I have been aiming to please God all my life, I can say that." Her conviction was that the work was real, but that at the time, she did not understand the nature of it; and hence from causes clearly ascertainable, it was as in many similar cases, soon overshadowed by circumstances of doubt. The truth is, children are just as capable of experiencing the grace of God as persons of riper years; but they are not capable of defining their feelings, or of understanding the great doctrines of salvation,—and for this very reason, they are more liable to be subjected to fluctuations both of feeling and purpose. It would be well if some older people, who do not take the pains to obtain a clear and intelligent view of the religion they profess, were not equally unstable and from the same cause; if there was no occasion for the apostolic admonition, "Be not children in understanding; howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men." The feelings of children, when employed about the great subjects of religion and eternity, are not lightly to be discouraged, even when mixed up with much that a maturer judgment must condemn; they should be fostered with solicitous care. The tender plant requires gentle culture; touch it not too rudely lest you check its development; watch it carefully; support its weak and fragile stem; tenderly remove what is injurious; and give it plenty of scope, that it may put forth its young fresh leaves; and it will bloom by and by with all the richer fragrance and beauty. "Forbid them not," cries the Saviour. Let them come with their first fruits, and lay the offering of their childhood unsullied by unholy communion with the world at the Master's feet. Let them come with their cherry lips, and sparkling eyes, and loving hearts. Let them come before age has curdled their blood, and the pleasures of life have blunted the keenness of their susceptibilities. Let them come, let them come. The Saviour welcomes their approach. The fragrance of the sacrifice they bring is precious in his sight, and while he folds the little ones in his arms, he lifts his eyes to heaven, and "rejoicing in spirit, says, I thank thee O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes, even so Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight."
Providentially Mary Burdsall was under judicious direction, and retained her religious purpose although she lost the sweetness of her enjoyment. Her experience assumed that unsettled phase which often characterises the earlier stages of youthful piety. Now miserable from a consciousness of having grieved the Spirit of God, and again hopeful, confident, and happy. Sometimes she was driven even to despair, and admitted the thought that the day of grace was past for ever. One day while in this state of feeling she overheard her father conversing with a friend on the awful case of Francis Spira,[Footnote: "Francis Spira an advocate of Padua, Ann. 1545, that being desperate, by no counsell of learned men could be comforted; he felt, as he said, the pains of hell in his soule, in all other things he discoursed aright; but in this most mad. Frismelica, Bullovat, and some other excellent physicians, could neither make him eat, drink or sleep; no persuasion could ease him. Never pleaded any man so well for himself, as this man did against himself; and so he desperately died. Springer, a lawyer, hath written his life."—Burton's Anatomy of Melancholie.] her mind was filled with great horror, and she was constrained to seek refuge in prayer. While she was pleading with God the words were applied, "Turn ye at my reproof," and the snare was broken. During this period of mental conflict she steadfastly maintained her connexion with the church; and thus escaped that total loss of spiritual feeling, into which many, in similar circumstances, plunge themselves by withdrawing from the circle of religious influence. Her exceeding volatility of temper, which was the cause of her instability, often occasioned her bitter reflections; and as it was a source of trouble to herself, excited the anxiety of her mother, who frequently said to her, "There's a wide world will tame thee." Her own words in reference to this stage of her history were, "They never turned me out of class, but from my thoughtlessness and giddiness, I am sure, I was not a proper Methodist." Still the struggle between grace and nature was secretly going on; and every new proof of her own weakness but contributed to strengthen and establish her resolves.
About this time she became acquainted with Miss Barrett, afterwards Mrs. Zech. Taft, from whose counsels and example she derived much advantage. Her first introduction to this excellent woman occurred while on a visit to her uncle Mr. Wm. Stables, who had succeeded to his father's farm at Sandygate. It seems her uncle and aunt were invited to meet Miss B. at a social party at Harewood, but being otherwise engaged, it was agreed that Mary should go in their stead, accompanied by her aunt's sister. As she left the house her uncle said, "I hope they'll convert thee." On arriving at the place where the party was assembled she found a room full of strangers, and among them Miss B., to whom she was specially introduced as Richard Burdsall's daughter.
This secured her a kind and hearty reception. After tea followed a Prayer-meeting in which petitions were particularly offered on her behalf. Her pride was wounded and she thought within herself, "If they would but pray for themselves it would be all very well;" but notwithstanding this revulsion of feeling the impression made by this interview was not only salutary, but indelible. She felt and wept much, and from this time gave herself more diligently to the study of the word of God and prayer. Subsequently she had many opportunities of meeting with Miss B. in York, and the spiritual benefit which she derived from these interviews led to a permanent friendship.
"IN THE MORNING SOW THY SEED." Eccles. xi. 6.
Have you ever witnessed a glorious sunrise? Have you ever seen the orb of day go forth as a bridegroom to run his race, arrayed in robes of crimson, and purple, and gold? Then nature has taught you the lesson that early opportunities are the brightest and best. Golden are the early hours of morning, when the mind is most vigorous, and the powers of nature, refreshed by sleep, are in full play. Golden too are the days of early youth, before the heart is saddened by vanity, and the spirit pressed down by the accumulating cares and responsibilities of life. Let them be diligently improved, and they cannot fail to bring a rich and profitable return. Therefore "in the morning sow thy seed."
Mary Burdsall was not indifferent to these opportunities. In the beginning of life she formed the habit of early rising. She rose with the lark and sang as merrily. She cultivated a taste for reading and reflection; and although the natural vivacity of her disposition was a constant snare in her path, she never lost sight of the purpose she had formed of living for God. In secret she communed with her own heart, and, the better to secure her growth in grace, commenced a diary, which, with two or three short intermissions, occasioned by sickness, was continued until within a week of her death. Unfortunately a considerable portion of these manuscripts, including a period of several years just preceding and following her marriage, were destroyed by her own hands. What remains, is however no small proof of her diligence and perseverance, as they extend to twenty quarto volumes containing about 5,000 pages. They contain, besides the record of her inner and outer life, copious summaries of the discourses she heard; numerous extracts from books, especially of passages calculated to impress the heart or direct the life; and an extraordinary amount of original verse; for from the first she appears to have adopted the practice of putting her thoughts into rhyme,—a practice which when unaccompanied by true genius is generally a profitless waste of time; but which in her case was made a valuable means of personal edification, as well as of administering counsel, consolation or admonition to others. Few events of public or private interest, in her own family or in the circle of her acquaintance, could pass without provoking her ready pen. Subjects poetical and unpoetical were alike constrained into measured lines; which, if not always remarkable for rhythm, were at least rich in evangelical sentiment, and pervaded by deep spirituality of thought. Some of these productions are inserted in this volume, in the order in which they occur in her diary, not because they possess any literary merit, but as eminently characteristic of her habits of thought and feeling. In fact they are transcripts of her own heart, and she seems often to have preferred this method of expressing her fervid emotions to the use of cooler prose.
A few examples of the entries made when she was fifteen will suffice to show what were the aspirations of her early youth:—
"This is the last day of 1797. O may I this day put off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light: and begin a new life with a new year,—Lord, help me this day to live to Thee. Let Thy love be shed abroad in my heart. Inspire the spirit of prayer. Let my few days be spent in praising Thee, the Giver of all good gifts. Loose my heart from every earthly object, and let my affections be set upon Thee and things above. Lord, pardon my coldness, and help me in future to double my diligence to make my calling and election sure.—During service my mind was very much troubled; but glory be to God, He gave me, in a measure, a praying spirit; and I trust He will answer His own. Spirit's prayer. Lord, speak the answer to my heart now.—Went with Miss Barrett to the Poor-house. She exhorted from, 'I believe in the communion of saints, and in the forgiveness of sins.' After that I went with her to the select band; she then came home, and slept with me. The Lord blessed my soul in her company.—My mind is troubled; but do Thou, who in every temptation makest a way for Thy people to escape, deliver my soul out of prison, that I may praise Thee.—I went with Miss B. to see some sick people. One man was mourning for redemption in the blood of the Lamb; but, before we came away, he rejoiced in the God of his salvation.—Lord, keep me from the vanity of this alluring world. May I love Thee supremely. The Lord blesses my soul greatly. Blessed be His name, He reproves me; may I take the reproof.—A gleam of love was let into my soul at the meeting; but after, I felt very dull and stupid.—I think I am willing to be any thing, or nothing, only give me to feel Thy love in my heart. Do, Jesus, increase my faith, but let it be now. Help me, I pray Thee, to live as in Thy sight all the day long.—Called to see Ann F. We went up-stairs and prayed together.—I have had more of the presence of God the last few days. The Lord be praised. I want to have my evidence made very clear. O shine on my soul, and make the darkness light before me; that I may greatly triumph in the God of my salvation.—I heard Mr. Simeon at Belfrey Church; it was a gracious time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.—Miss Barrett spoke at Clifton. The power of the Lord was evidently felt. As it was a very wet night we went into a barn, but it filled so fast, we returned into the open air. Miss B. prayed that God would stop the bottles of heaven for a few minutes; and, glory be to His name, He answered her request. The Prayer-meeting continued some time, and several souls were brought into liberty.—I gave way to a light spirit, which has done me much hurt.—Lord, pardon me for giving way to lightness of spirit; help me in future to redeem the time, and to take due care to prepare myself for the great day.—O, Jesus, rouse me from my sins, and give me to wake up after Thy likeness. Do fill me with Thy love. Let it flow into my poor disconsolate soul, that I may serve Thee with all my ransomed powers.—O let not my heart be set on the creature more than Thee; but let me give myself to Thee without reserve. I go to school; Lord, help me to learn the lessons of Thy grace as well as arithmetic. Drive this dulness, both of body and soul away; that I may learn with speed and delight.—Thou knowest, Lord, that I have not lived adorning my profession; let the time past suffice, and let me begin to glorify Thy name. Lord, save me from flattery, for Christ's sake. Amen.—January, 1799. Began to meet in band with Sarah B. O Lord, give us one spirit with Thyself. I want, O Lord, to love Thee supremely above all beside; give me, I pray Thee, the victory over myself."
These extracts bear, no doubt, the impress of childish thought; yet they indicate that she had already formed large views of the nature of inward religion. In her estimation it was a blessed reality of which she might have a "clear evidence," and which could only reach its perfection in the "likeness of God." Its principle was love, controlling the most secret motions of the heart, and regulating the minutest details of daily practice. This religion she proposed to herself as the purpose of life. For this she earnestly prayed, and to help her resolutions, she sought and cultivated the society of such as were excellent in the earth. The select character of the associations she formed was, perhaps, one main cause which contributed to her after proficiency. She once mentioned to the writer, as a matter of profound gratitude to God, that she had always mingled among religious people, and only remembered one week in her whole life which had been spent among persons not professing godliness. She lived and breathed in the pure atmosphere of prayer and love, where the Holy Spirit loves to dwell, until she became one spirit with Him.
The chosen companions of her youth were such as already enjoyed, or like herself were seeking, the experience of divine truth. Among other early acquaintance was Miss Nodes of Skelton Hall, afterwards the wife of the Rev. Dr. Newton. This lady had recently become a Methodist, and burning with all the fervour of first love frequently came to Mr. Burdsall for counsel and encouragement: Her first interview with Mr. Newton occurred at Mr. Burdsall's house in the following manner. During the sittings of the District-meeting, Mr. B. had invited the Revds. Messrs. Needham and Newton, with some others, to dinner; and sent an invitation to Miss Nodes to come and join them: to this Mrs. Nodes objected; but promised to call the next day and apologize. She did so in company with her daughter, just as the party were about to kneel down to prayer, and they were consequently invited in. After prayer a hymn was proposed, which was sung by Mr. Newton and Miss Burdsall, who had a clear and melodious voice of considerable compass. Miss Nodes then remarked, that at Skelton they had to live by begging, as they only had preaching occasionally; and if one of them would go over and give them a sermon, it would be a great charity. Mr. N. immediately promised to accompany Mr. Burdsall the following day; and from that time commenced an acquaintance which resulted in their union.
In many cases, and very commonly in the case of young persons, who have been religiously trained, the process by which the mind reaches the assurance of faith is very slow. "The going forth" of the Spirit "is prepared as the morning." The first streaks of dawn bring a degree of comfort, for there is promise of day; but the clear and unclouded light of the Divine favour is yet distant. The doubtful twilight, however, continues to expand and brighten, until at length the sun peeps above the distant hills, or bursts through the morning cloud, and all uncertainty is banished in a moment. It was thus with Mary Burdsall. Two years later we find her still seeking the indubitable witness of the Spirit. The work of grace was slow and deep. She writes:—
"Father met our class; when he spoke to me I could not forbear weeping. O that I could weep my sins away. J.T. and B.M. prayed and mentioned me by name. This touched my pride. Oh! for simplicity!—In the forenoon I went to Pavement church to hear dear Mr. Emmington. His text was, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'—A searching discourse. O Lord, revive Thy work in my soul; probe me to the bottom.—I feel a very hard heart; but, Lord, a touch, a look from Thee, can break my heart of stone. O melt me into love.—Alas for me! I seem quite barren, but is there not a cause? Yes. Lightness of spirit, love of the creature, pride, and dislike, are sins that so easily beset me. I am overcome by them. But, O God, Thou hast all power, now resume Thy right. Let the powers of hell no more prevail.—In the class father asked me, if I ever went to pray; I answered in the affirmative; but, Lord, Thou knowest I am not so much in earnest as I was some weeks ago.—Father called upon me to pray; I did not refuse, but have since been tempted to believe I should be a greater hypocrite. Lord, make me a Christian indeed in whom there is no guile.—Lord give me to enjoy the reality of Christianity, I want to be thine. God help me to give up my own will. Bless him whom I have given up with a very great growth in grace."
[This entry refers to an attachment which met with the disapproval of her parents and was relinquished in the spirit of filial obedience.]
"Just before tea, Mr. Spence asked me if my heart was right; I could not forbear weeping. 'God be merciful to me a sinner.' What an enemy is a light and trifling spirit!—I was grieved because I had disobliged my mother. O for a meek and quiet spirit."
The particulars of the next two or three years are only to be gathered from a few scanty notes attached to a small pocket Bible, in which she had carefully noted the sermons she heard with the impressions made on her own mind. The greater part of these are written in short-hand, and consequently useless. But such as are intelligible prove that she was in the habit of weighing the words of the preacher and applying them to her own heart. Some expressions seem to indicate that the clouds which had so long overshadowed her spirit were beginning to disperse and give place to a serene and sunny sky. We quote a few examples.
"Oh! how happy was I!—I did not hear to profit, I was troubled in mind. I felt it.—I long to find my all in God.—I felt the love of Jesus precious.—I am answered.—Blessed, heart searching doctrine!—A telling sermon but I was unmoved; how hard am I.—He like some of his brethren harps at the gown and cassock.—I felt much softened.—Memorable!—Alas! I profit little by all I hear; surely it is because my faith is small. Ah. me! how long? how long?—A precious discourse to me. He preached my experience.—The solution of the text was a gratification, while I heard profitably. He made a very droll remark when describing those 'who make their belly their God;' he said 'they make their kitchen their temple, their cook and butcher their priests, and their belly their God.'—I felt my soul blessed and encouraged while hearing of sin being destroyed, with an earnest longing for its accomplishment. I felt the burden of indwelling sin very heavy; O when shall the happy period commence that God shall be all in all.—I staid the communion for the first time; how solemn! I was humbled and melted down exceedingly.—O how infinitely short I fall of walking with God! The love-feast was immediately after; the master of the feast was there: I felt his presence and spoke.—Mr. Sutcliffe's farewell sermon; may the Lord bless and reward his labours in this place."
The most important memorandum is a collection of rules for the regulation of her own conduct, adopted about the year 1805; and these, we do not hesitate to add, were written not merely with pen and ink, but impressed by the Spirit of God upon her memory and heart, for those who knew her will be able to recognize in them the key of her after life. They are as follow:—
"1. Let me rise early.
2. Never let me trifle with a book with which I have no present concern; in applying myself to any book, let me endeavour to recollect what I may learn by it, and then beg suitable assistance from God.
3. Never let me lose one minute of time, nor incur any unnecessary expense, that I may have the more to spend for God. When I am abroad let me be desirous of doing good; let me have in readiness some subject of contemplation and endeavour to improve my time as I go along.
4. Let me endeavour to render myself agreeable and useful to all around me; by a tender compassionate friendly behaviour; avoiding all trifling and impertinent stories; remembering that imprudence is sin.
5. Never let me delay anything, unless I can prove that another time will be more fit than the present; or that some more important duty requires my immediate attention.
6. O may I never enter into any long schemes about future events, but in general refer myself to God's care.
Direct me virtue's happy course to run, And let me be instructed by thy Son, In every station say "thy will be done."
7. O that I may be delivered from the least inclination to judge my neighbours; and that henceforth I may find fault with none so much as myself."
To these are added several extracts from the general rules of the Methodist Societies; particularly those which refer to the use of time, the government of the tongue, reading the Scriptures, private prayer, and abstinence.
The standard of Christian character at which she aimed was high; and perhaps this very circumstance contributed to delay the happy experience she sought. She looked at herself instead of looking directly to Christ. She contrasted her own deficiencies with the exact obedience required by a perfect law, instead of simply casting herself upon the blood which justifieth not the righteous but the sinner, which believeth in Jesus. The simplicity of salvation by faith was long overlooked, but at last the snare was broken; and about the close of the year 1805 she obtained the deliverance she so earnestly desired. We here quote her own words.
"While alone at Mrs. T.'s, the Lord was graciously pleased to visit me with a manifestation of his love; increasing my faith, and applying these words with power to my mind; 'The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart.' I had such a view of the willingness of Christ to save by faith as I never had before. Notwithstanding, I think, if I had been better acquainted with the way of salvation, I should e'er now have been able to claim the blessing through the merits of Christ. But it is so simple I overlooked it; and thought myself wiser than I was. Now I begin to see with the Psalmist how ignorant I am, even 'as a beast' before the Lord; but blessed be His glorious name, I feel my confidence is in His mercy: yet I feel myself the most unprofitable of all His hands have made, and wonder why to me this boundless love."
THE HOLY ESTATE.
"AND THEY TWAIN SHALL BE ONE FLESH." Matt. xix. 5.
Wedded life, perhaps more than any other, is a test of character; but when entered upon "reverently, discreetly, soberly, advisedly, and in the fear of God," contributes in a higher degree not merely to earthly enjoyment, but to that which is the great end of life, human salvation. The constant action of two wills, thus intimately brought into contact with each other, must either inflame or mould the spirit, just in the degree in which it is subjected or not to the influence of divine grace; and where both parties are governed by Christian principle, the effect is mutual happiness and advantage. Nature is subdued, and grace brought into full play. The sorrows, difficulties, and temptations of life are lightened by reciprocal help and affection; the inheritance in heaven is pursued with greater zest because of united effort and encouragement; while the constant discharge of the respective duties of husband and wife serves for the development of the mind that was in Christ. Hence the Apostle Paul speaks of the marriage state as a great mystery, representing the union of Christ and his church. But marriage has reference to another and not less important object, the training of a "holy seed." The union of parents is intended to secure blessings upon, their children, and where the divine requirement is prayerfully attended to, there may be expected to be a fulfilment of the gracious promise,—"I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring."
In the prospect of assuming the responsible relation of wife, Miss Burdsall thought and felt deeply. Her first anxiety was, that she might find in her husband one who would help her in the way to heaven; and the next that she might be able to discharge the duties of her new station with efficiency and fidelity. The predominating desire of her heart was to find her happiness in God, and to be conformed in all things to his will. Two days before marriage she writes:—
"I feel this day my soul aspires heavenward, and my greatest bliss is derived from Emanuel's side. Glory be to God, I feel I love him, but long for more conformity to his will."
Mr. Lyth, who had solicited and won her affections, was the son of a respectable farmer residing in the neighbourhood of York. Originally designed for agricultural life, he had forsaken the plough to undertake a flourishing business, which had been commenced by an elder brother lately deceased: and being early converted to God, under the ministry of the venerable Sutcliffe, the proposed union was every way propitious.
The marriage was solemnized on the 18th of February, 1806, in the parish church of Holy Trinity, York; and so far as the principal parties were concerned with intensely religious feelings. Indeed Mr. Burdsall's loud and hearty responses to the prayers superseded the functions of the clerk, and somewhat astonished the officiating minister. The wedding dinner was spiced with the presence of the Rev. Samuel Bardsley, whose portly person, and beautiful simplicity contributed not a little to the amusement of the younger guests: and the same evening, the good old man preached an appropriate sermon, selecting for his subject, the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee. Mrs. Lyth's own feelings in relation, to this event, and during the first few years of wedded life, are best expressed by herself.
"Memorable day! I gave my hand to John Lyth at Hymen's sacred altar. I endeavoured to do it by faith, as well as I could; but felt extremely stupified. We went to spend the day at Newton upon Derwent. With me it passed more pleasantly towards the close, indeed, while we were conversing about God on our way home, I found it truly good; but when we came in sight of lay new habitation, the sensations that seized my mind are better felt than I can describe. It is now six weeks since I began to wear the matrimonial chain. I have clasped it without one thought of regret, and through grace I hope I ever shall; yet am conscious of my own incompetency to fill up the sphere I have entered. Oh! my God, help me, help me. I bless God my mind is drawn to seek my heaven in Jesus, although my earthly comforts are ready to ensnare me: yet having been taught to know the uncertainty of all transitory things, and that
'The fairest things below the sky Give but a flattering light,'
I would, through grace strengthening me, give God my undivided heart. Lord, here I am, take me, and possess me wholly.—Glory be to God my soul lives. I feel 'drawn by the lure of strong desire' to choose God for my portion. The last week has been one of trial, but I am constrained to believe the Lord doeth all things well.—We arrived in Scarbro' after being much favoured during a showery day; but praise belongs to our heavenly Benefactor.—We took a walk to the church and castle; where my dear John unfortunately lost his watch. After searching for it in vain for nearly an hour, and thinking of returning home, providence led him to the place where he had dropped it. Surely it can be esteemed no other than the gift of heaven, since it had lain an hour exposed to the public crowds that resorted thither.—The day was fine, and we spent it in sitting a little in the house, and in walking upon the sands and among the rocks, seeking for shells, the beauty of which, with the wide ocean, and surrounding prospect, made me wish for the pen of a scribe and the imagination of a poet; but I found wishing to be a vain employment.
"About a quarter past eight in the morning my Eliza was born. Blessed be God he graciously supported me in the trial. O that mother and child may be devoted to Thee, thou God of infinite compassion. Give me more grace that I may walk unblameable in thy sight, and before those over whom thy providence has place me. Teach me to order my conversation aright, and to keep myself unspotted from the world. O my God, I have nothing to offer for all the blessings asked; but help me to be thy devoted servant from this moment.
"1807. My dear husband has made a purchase, which is to me a source of anxiety; but Lord, Thou knowest,—Thou rulest over all, help and direct. O let us in all our ways acknowledge Thee, that thou mayest direct our steps. Keep, O keep us from being a discredit to Thy cause; and in this particular set us right.—I am left alone with my infant, who begins to steal my affections more than I ever thought of. O God, take my poor heart, lost a creaturely attachment be too strongly rooted within my breast. Lord, Thou knowest me altogether, and the secret springs of my affection, cleanse me from all defilement; purify me from all my sins, and let me this moment yield myself entirely to Thee; and as Thou deignest to visit dust, visit me.—Time glides away; eternity approaches; and yet, alas! my mind fluctuates as the wind. O my God, shall I never be firmly grounded upon Thyself. Come, 'Desire of nations,' save me from anxiety respecting worldly things; let all our temporal affairs be under Thy management, and our happiness centre in doing thy will.
How vainly have I sought in things beneath To place a confidence, which faithless earth Can never recompence! O firmly fix My soul on joys above the smiling skies; Let Jesus' love inspire, and fill my heart.
God bless my dear companion. Settle and fix his affections on Thyself,—the supreme good. Let every faculty of his mind be at Thy command.
"1808. Twelve o'clock at night. Lord, my mind aspires heavenward. Let heaven, I beseech Thee, come into my soul. Let the radiance of Thy love fill me with light and life divine. Give me sensibly to feel and know, that Thou art reconciled to me, without Thy grace, effectually undone. I feel something within my heart, is it the effect of Thy love? If it is, let it more powerfully affect my soul, that I may live in constant readiness to take my flight to yon bright realms above. But is that bliss prepared for me? O let me feel it. This afternoon my brother Richard died. Alas! how uncertain are all sublunary things! He was just entering life, and lo! he is snatched away. Surely the all-wise 'I AM' saw evil gathering, and kindly removed him to a happier clime, safe from impending danger. Well, my Richard is gone; while I, four years older, am yet alive. Mercy, that took him, spares me with the same gracious design; 'not willing that any should perish, but that all might have everlasting life.' May that blessed end be answered in my poor soul, which without Thy enlivening presence feels an 'aching void' which the whole world cannot fill.
"This day has been a day of affliction, but it drives me to the Lord. My dear husband and children are entwined about my heart. Lord, help me to give them freely up, and do Thou take, and possess me whole."
The following lines were addressed to a valued friend:—
Whitehead, awake! and sweep the lyre again With touch seraphic to a Saviour slain; A Saviour, worthy of sublimest verse, A Saviour's love too mighty to rehearse; The purest theme that ever fired the tongue, Gave life to genius,—harmony to song; Fill thy enraptured soul with thought divine, And pour its fulness on the glowing line.
"1809.—Have had a tooth drawn. O that the dire root of sin were as effectually taken away, never more to disturb my happiness; and that pure perennial peace might succeed,—I have been visiting the sick: but oh! how inadequate to the responsible task! O my God awake my drowsy powers, and fit me for every sphere I have to fill in life.—I feel more heartfelt joy in leaning upon Christ than anything else; yet it is hard work to keep the mind disentangled from worldly cares. Things needful to me, seem the most dangerous, and what I am most liable to be ensnared by. In visiting some infirm people my soul was deeply affected, when I considered their age, and ignorance, and my own inability to instruct them. How great is the ignorance of mankind! O that God would apply some word spoken by his poor dust."
During the time the Rev. A.E. Farrar was stationed in York, her aspirations after purity of heart reached a crisis, and she was enabled by faith to claim the promise; "Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it." For some time her convictions were so clear and distinct, that to use her own words she "durst not say she had not received the blessing." But this happy experience—the Christian's highest privilege on earth—was soon interrupted by doubtful reasonings; still her conscience was
"Quick, as the apple of an eye, The slightest touch of sin to feel."
As an instance of her conscientiousness we mention a circumstance which took place somewhere about this time. A farmer, who owed my father a considerable sum of money, had been repeatedly importuned for payment, but without effect; and it was at length given up, as a bad debt. One Sabbath morning, while she was sitting alone, he unexpectedly called to settle his account. She said, "We have nothing to do with receiving money on a Sunday; it is the Lord's day, and we do not think it right." "Well," replied the man, holding the money in his hand, "you might as well take it while you have the chance of it." But neither argument, nor expostulation, could induce her to touch the forbidden notes. The man therefore pocketed the money, and went away; but not without an admonition on keeping holy the Sabbath day. No one eventually loses anything by the maintenance of principle, and the debt was honestly discharged the following week.
The solitary record of the year 1810, is contained in the following lines, which may be regarded as expressive of her own feelings.
Jesus, Thy glorious name shall still My musing thought and tongue employ; Whose presence doth creation fill. Be Thou my portion and my joy.
Jesus! blest source of all my hope, In whom my spirit finds its rest; Whose precious blood, inspiring thought! Hath purchased heaven to make me blest.
Where can a mortal language find, To tell such love when angels fail? "God did so love the world," and died, That love by justice might prevail.
Drawn by this love, a witness I, That God to all the Saviour gave; Who willing are, may testify, He can unto the utmost save.
"1811.—I thank God for the blessed privilege of hearing the ministers of righteousness, but lament their word makes so little impression upon my heart. I seem a forgetful hearer, or as one that hears the word with joy, but little fruit appears to perfection. Yesterday, irritated by some frivolous cause, I was thrown off my guard, and grieved the spirit of God. This occasioned a sense of condemnation, and though now the Lord blesses me, I cannot forgive myself. O that I again enjoyed the sanctifying influences of His Holy Spirit! Until this is the case, I shall be whirled about by my enemies within. Lord make me more in earnest, that I may never rest till again the sweet power of sovereign love has possession of my heart.—I rose early to attend the prayer-meeting, and receiving grace from Him whose birth we commemorated, I fancied my hill stood strong; and that I should be able to rise above everything I might have to try me: but alas! I again proved my own weakness. My little charge were some of them sick, others cross, all wanted me; so that all my graces were put to the test. O that I had more patience, that I might sit 'calm on tumult's wheel.' Lord, Thou knowest me altogether, I would not be a hypocrite, neither wound Thy cause by impatience; Thou hast promised strength for the day, and I am determined to cast my whole soul on Thee;—to have Thee for my Saviour. At the lovefeast much was said respecting family prayer. I bless God. This duty is my delight."
To a friend slighted in love, she writes—
Alas my friend! what can I say to cheer? What sound is sweet to a distracted ear? Turn from the creature, disappointed, turn: Lament your folly,—deeply humbled mourn, Your disregard of Him, who died to gain Your worthless heart, and bid you love again. O! turn to him, who gave himself for you, Your love, your heart, your life, are all his due; No fickleness or change in him is known, He loves and will for ever love his own; Here place your treasure, and here find your rest, Make God your all, and be for ever blest.
"1812.—Through grace I am resolved on the side of virtue. I have peace in God, and a growing desire to imitate him in my daily walk; but no marvel if all my best actions need purging from their dross. I seem all pollution; yet my soul lays hold upon the Saviour, who alone is able to purify my nature. On February 3rd, my sister Anna died, eleven years old. I was called to witness the pleasing, painful, awful scene. While kneeling by her bed, after a paroxysm of extreme agony, as she had a moment's respite, my mother said; 'Ask her if she is happy to lift up her hand.' She did instantly and said, 'A kiss,' and so turned recollectedly to each, with a smiling countenance, while her dying lips were but just sensible of the impression; then after another short struggle she sweetly fell asleep in Jesus. So I alone am left to tell it."
1813.—After adverting to a number of painful circumstances, she adds:—"Praise God, the seizure of my own body, though by far the most painful of these occurrences, has been the greatest blessing. On the first attack I was stupified—but the Lord liberated me and supplied grace in the hour of need. Thus have I experienced how suddenly the Lord can take away the choicest of all blessings, health. Being through mercy again restored, my soul derives its happiness from God. I see before me broad rivers and streams springing from that fountain, whence all solid comfort flows; but great weakness, much unfaithfulness, many omissions and errors in myself. Lord increase my faith, that I may enter the holiest by the blood of Jesus. For some time I have met in band with Mrs. W. We have had many precious seasons together.—A circumstance occurring which was misconstrued, put me suddenly out of temper, and caused me much pain of mind, besides displeasing others together with my dear partner. O my God, but for Thy blood, I should lose all hope of eternal happiness; yet blot not, I beseech Thee, my name out of the book of life; but if ever my heart went with my words, I entreat Thee,—
"Chase this self-will through all my heart, Through all its latent mazes there."
"1814.—Reflecting on the past—my mercies and ingratitude, my warnings and neglect, my privileges and non-improvements, my affliction and restoration to health, Thy love, O God, in ten thousand instances, and my small affection, I wonder why I am still the object of Thy care, but I see the cause in Jesus' blood. There the reason lies. O might I here my nature lose, and gain the Infinite."
Musing on the loss of her children, three of whom had died in infancy, she writes:—
Blest mother! thus to yield to God The gifts so lately given; Blest babes I for you have cross'd the flood, And safely 'scaped to heaven.
I have been very much harassed with temptation of an awful kind,—to blaspheme the blessed Spirit. My God, preserve me. I shudder at the thought, and have necessarily been driven to God in prayer.—I have to praise God for temptation; for seeking refuge in Jesus, my only defence against my enemy, I have a firmer confidence in Him as my Saviour.
Whither, O whither, should I go? To Thy blest wounds I flee; No refuge can I find below, My help is all in Thee.
"The illumination! a crowded city! many devices! The face of the people seems to speak peace, but Thou, Lord, seest the heart. Set my heart right.—As the clock struck three I was awoke with the words; 'Put on the helmet of salvation and the weapon of all prayer.' For a time fear crept over me, lest my husband and child, both from home, should return ill; but as I meditated, the passage occurred; 'All things work together for good to them that love God.' I was instantly delivered; and all I could titter was, Glory be to God. As I lay praising and praying, these lines arose in my mind.
If time is so precious, and death on the wing, Oh! shelter me, Jesus, secure from his sting; Now open the fountain, and wash out my stain, That to live may be Christ, and to die may be gain. This, this is the honour to which I aspire, The grace to attain it is all I desire; Oh! fill me with heaven, through faith in Thy blood, Then crown me with glory, and lift me to God.
I have had a precious morning—arose a little before five, and spent an hour alone. God was with me. Glory! Glory!"
"How time hurries on! Another year has almost stolen away. Where am I? What am I? Thus much of time is gone; how much fitter am I for heaven? I pause,—am alone,—but 'Thou God seest me.' On my knees, I ask Thy mercy, and implore Thee to be mine for ever. Precious Jesus! I feel Thee willing to save me, and a sweet confidence Thou wilt save me. O! the sweetness of union with God!—My mind is troubled about the future. Sensible of my own weakness, my children's welfare awakens my concern. O my God, take charge of my little ones. While attempting to instruct them to-day, my two little girls seemed affected. O let this be the beginning of Thy fear in their hearts, that shall never, never, depart."
Her anxiety on behalf of the salvation of her children was intense. Her efforts were commenced with the first dawn of intelligence, and continued with unremitting ardour until they were rewarded with success. By timely instruction and caution, by counsel and expostulation, by warning and reproof, by a godly discipline, by frequent letters in which the "one thing" was never forgotten; by prayers and supplications mingled with tears, as they knelt alone at her side; by intercessions offered day and night in secret on their behalf; by enforcing the punctual observance of religious duties, such as reading the word, family devotion, and public worship; and by her own pure example, she never ceased to train them in the way that they should go. But her chief strength lay in ceaseless and effectual prayer, which was urged in the spirit of him who said, "I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me." Is it wonderful, if her children and grandchildren are found walking in the truth? For many successive years, she was accustomed to address to each a few lines on the anniversary of their birth. These were always replete with godly counsels, and wisely suited to the age and circumstances of the individual. The periodical effusion was anxiously looked for, and highly prized. To our young imaginations, the productions of her pen glowed with all the fire of Milton, and flowed with all the softness and melody of Spenser; and if a riper judgement has robbed us of the pleasing fancy, it has been at least replaced by the grateful conviction that they were the overflowings of a mother's heart, and by the blessing of God, contributed in a great measure to give an early bias in favour of religious truth. A specimen written at this time is here inserted.
TO MY RICHARD.
Unuttered feelings glow within my heart, Ah! in what language can I paint them best? That you, my darling boy, may know a part, Unconscious of what fills a mother's breast.
Childlike and innocent your actions are, No thought of guile as yet within your breast; Alas! the wily foe, not lurking far, May soon corrupt and desecrate your rest.
Might I unveil the snares, that scattered round, Beset your path from childhood to old age; But Love allwise, in mystery profound, Has hid in darkness all the varied page.
Be it sufficient, grace is ever nigh; If in the path of rectitude you tread, No ill shall harm you; you will soon descry The tempter's snare, however deeply laid.
Choose virtue, Richard, shun the path of vice, Let not ungodly youth your mind ensnare; Take this wise caution, "If they would entice, Consent thou not;" be sure that sin is there.
Walk with the wise, that you may wiser grow; Let age teach wisdom, hear it with respect; It can in time forwarn, and danger show, Where you no secret mischief may suspect.
In useful learning all your youth engage; From simple knowledge of your mother tongue, Proceed to figures; then, from stage to stage Pursue each science, though the way be long.
By knowledge learn your ignorance to know, Nor dream you have the height of wisdom gained; No greater proof of ignorance below, Than loud to boast of what we have attained.
Read useful books—the Bible most prefer, In it your Maker's will is clearly shown; Then bend your humble knee in secret prayer, That faith may make its precious truths your own.
If tales of fiction should themselves present, Too oft injurious to the mind of youth, Throw them aside; and sacredly intent On your improvement, follow after truth.
When you require relief, be history true Of your own land, and other lands perused; This will instruct, give entertainment too, While neither time nor talents are abused.
Thus, in your youth, redeem the fleeting hour, That you in future life may useful be; By word and deed as far as in your power, To stem the torrent of impiety.
Remember, as your present life is spent, Future reward or punishment is due; Oh! then improve the precious moments lent, And everlasting life shall wait on you.
"Praise God, I have a partner desirous of joining heartily in the Christian warfare; often are we blest while we pour out our souls together before the Lord, O for a closer walk with God."
SHOWER AND SUNSHINE.
"NOW MEN SEE NOT THE BRIGHT LIGHT WHICH IS IN THE CLOUDS; BUT THE WIND PASSETH, AND CLEANSETH THEM." Job xxxvii. 21.
That stage of life which immediately precedes a ripe age, when man is in the full vigour of his strength, is not unfrequently like an April day mingled with sunshine and shower. The care of a rising family, and the accumulating interests of business and society, bring constant alternations of joy and sorrow; designed by God to soften and fructify the heart, which might otherwise become too callous under the scorching blaze of the world. Happy is it, when these kindly workings of a sublimer providence, cause the graces of his spirit to shoot forth like "the tender grass springing up out of the earth by clear shining after rain;" and when the experience acquired in seasons of vicissitude, is treasured up in the heart for future use. Mrs. Lyth had her April weather preparatory to the summer of her usefulness, as will appear by further extracts from her journal.
"1815—My father Lyth left us to join the disembodied throng. The last fortnight of his life was chiefly spent in prayer. I believe he died penitent. Thou best of Beings! prepare me for the approaching trial. In the fire may I lose nothing but sin. Fortify my mind, and let patience have its perfect work, that by no pain I may fall from Thee. Here I call to mind, that Thou hast brought me through six troubles; O leave me not in the seventh. Let me again prove Thy faithfulness.
"I scarcely know how the last fortnight has escaped. O the rapidity of time! well might one say, 'O time than gold more precious, more a load than lead to fools.' I am thankful, all my solid happiness is derived from God; and though I have many earthly comforts I can say, 'All my springs are in Thee.' I long to drink more freely of those living fountains, and to draw constant supplies from the inexhaustible fulness of the ever-blessed and adorable Jesus. Oh! it is sweet to meditate on this loved theme. Rising into God we lose ourselves, and seemed wrapped up in Deity.—Having met with a little disappointment, my mind is in some degree unhinged; I have been begging of God to undertake the matter, and overrule all for the best, which I hope has been the case; yet I find it hard to give up my own will. Lord, help me. I accompanied my father and mother to see cousin Hannah, who is apparently declining. Her prospects in life were exceedingly bright, but happiness is not in them, as there can be no enjoyment without health. What a mercy, afflictions spring not out of the dust: I am again called to experience it. Our apprentice, servant maid, and Eliza, are all in the scarlet fever. Better than I could expect considering the pressure upon me, I am constrained to say, judgment is mixed with love. May we lose nothing but dross, and shine brighter for being in the furnace.—I am informed by letter that cousin Hannah is no more,—it says nothing how she left this world. I long to know—will to-morrow inform me? I purpose to be at her funeral, if God give leave. O Thou, who wast to the Israelites both a pillar and a cloud, if Thou go not up with us, suffer us not to journey; for Thou knowest my heart, I wish to please Thee.—We went to Kirkby to the interment of my late Cousin, who, I am informed, died happily. Nearly her last intelligible words were, 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.' So she closed this mortal scene, and left her blooming prospects, fair estates, and all the bright anticipations of youth, for the lone silence of the tomb.—I feel more endeared than ever to the invisible world, being warned as I believe, by some departed friend, to give diligence. I am also reminded by the death of my cousin how vain are all things here below. Perhaps it was her kind spirit—who can tell?"
A QUESTION ASKED.
Does marriage, like the features of a fair and lovely face, Lose all its sweet attractions, when age comes on apace? Do soothing acts of kindness and words of comfort go, When troubles are assailing, and pleasure's cup is low? No, surely heav'n design'd it more to ameliorate The lonely state of humankind, when first He form'd a mate.
"1816.—I went to the School-room; and never did my eyes behold a scene so pleasing:—boys and girls in different parts of the room crying for mercy; while others were rejoicing in God. 'Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast ordained praise.' I longed for the salvation of my three children who were all there, but I had no power to take any active part; my mind seemed paralized.—In the midst of our afflictions God has not forgotten us. Our Waller [an apprentice] has obtained mercy, and Eliza's heart is touched. O that God would save all our family. I have had some 'seasons of refreshing;' but not enjoying the sanctifying influences of God's Spirit, I have felt a disposition to be discontented with the arrangements of Providence respecting the health of my children. I daily mourn this inbred corruption but not sufficiently, or I should be more in earnest to get rid of it. At present I feel a longing for the blessed liberty which many express. O may I share in the baptism which is now so gloriously shed upon this city.—The fifth day I have spent in my new habitation; all is confusion, and must remain so for some time to come. This would be a matter of little moment, if my mind were not distressed by the affliction of my Eliza. So I find every joy has its sorrow. Lord, as Thou knowest what is best for me and mine, give me patience, and let every dispensation of Thy providence be sanctified.—We opened our new shop. The first customer demanded credit, and the second took up her money with her goods, and went away with both. Providentially it was restored. We have now made a fortnight's trial, and have great cause of thankfulness for the prospect of success. The last few months have been full of toil and anxiety, but thank God, I can say:
'While blest with a sense of His love A palace a toy would appear; And prisons would palaces prove, If Jesus but dwelt with me there.'
I have been aiming, though feebly, to give God my heart. It is good to come to the Lord in private; it is there I find my greatest enjoyment.—For several nights I have suffered much pain; as much I think, as my patience could endure. In one of the paroxysms, the passage was continually in my mind, 'The wise shall inherit glory.' Throughout yesterday found it very sweet. I am in part deprived of the public ordinances, but find solid happiness in breathing my wishes to the Throne, and derive sweet solace from Him, whose smile creates my day.—Find in private with my God, I gain the most substantial peace; at least I have not learned the noble art of being ''midst busy multitudes alone.'—Our servant was taken dangerously ill. I think I did not feel any disposition to murmur; but want firmer reliance on the power of God, whose promise never fails. Have lately had some blessed meetings with my God, perhaps preparatory to this trial."
"1817. To-morrow, two criminals are to suffer death for the crime of murder. How awful from an earthly judge to receive the last sentence of the law! but how much more so to hear from Thee that final sentence, 'Depart ye cursed!' O, my God, let the cry of the prisoners come up before Thee.
In pity bow Thy gracious ear, Incline the sinner's heart to prayer, And draw him to Thy Son, Through whom, though vile he is, Thou wilt Remove the blackness of his guilt; Oh! let it now be done.
Thou Friend of sinners, if I may Approach, O give a heart to pray, And let Thy Spirit plead. But few the hours he has to live, O give repentance and forgive, Forgive the bloody deed.
At intervals have found it good, yea very good, while upon my knees; indeed I must say my happiest moments have been there. Why am I ever remiss in this duty, which brings me more solid peace than anything beside? There, I converse with God; there, behold His glory; there, forget self; there, get love to cover faults; there, assimilate to the image of God. This week has been marked by the affliction of my two youngest children. How painful to a mother to see them suffer! yet Lord, Thou knowest, I would rather see them droop and even die, than that they should live to rebel against Thee, and shut themselves out of Thy kingdom. O my God, on my knees, I present them all to Thee. Bless them with grace and understanding, and save them for ever.—I have had to grapple with rheumatism. It is painful, but what in duration, when compared with eternity? Nothing. May my soul, evermore fly upward. What need in health to prepare for sickness! There is then plenty to do to hold fast whereunto we have attained.—Cousin John Stables has exchanged life for immortality. His last words were, 'I am going to heaven, I know I am.' Blest knowledge in the hour of death! but more exalted, they who daily live with the assurance 'I am Thine', centering in God their hope and wish,—My dear little Hannah died, aged twenty weeks. A sweet smile rested upon her countenance. O Death! how art thou robbed of thy terrors, when infancy smiles in thy presence! Have not been at my class for a long time in consequence of ill-health: to-day I might have gone, but with shame confess, I forgot the time. O Lord lay not this sin to my charge. My heart would not displease Thee; my soul delights in Thee, and derives its happiness and peace from God my Saviour: no merit in myself, but Christ is all in all.—I would this evening offer Thee my heart; give me sincerity O God, and let me know the sacrifice is accepted. I am under deep obligation to Thee for having so far removed the pain from which I suffered May ease be gratefully acknowledged by me, and let my life show forth Thy praise. I bless the Lord for all the good I possess, and am constrained to say, it is all divine. Have begun to read Locke on the Understanding. Lord enlarge my capacity.—Enjoy better health than for several months; for this may my soul be truly thankful. It is good for me that I have been afflicted; I have learned to value my mercies as the gift of heaven. My anchor is in Jesus; from him my peace perpetually springs. I now feel he is my God. Yet the secret motions of my heart concur with the enemy of my soul to bring me into bondage, I long for victory. When will the happy moment arrive? Have lately thought the Lord has something for me to do; I would not bury my talents in the earth; but do Thou Lord, who knowest my insufficiency, direct my way. Glory be to God, I am blest while calling to mind his innumerable mercies. It is like lifting up the lid of a casket to expose the jewels contained therein to the light of the sun, whose radiance they reflect, and whose heat they attract.—How sweet to be at the throne of grace! Have had great freedom with the Lord while interceding for a fallen friend, over whom I lament. O that God would reclaim the wanderer. My soul is sweetly drawn out after more of the image of God, for to the present I have but little imitated my Lord. God help me in my life to display every feature of his character. My dear cousin Ann is, I fear, sinking, so true is it, 'Man cometh up as a flower,' and is cut down; but she is happy in God. This is cause of thanksgiving. Many of the excellent of the earth are retreating behind the veil. May I work while it is day. What a poor slothful soul I have been, when heaven shines so bright above me. Now I feel resolved to work. Jesus, Thou seest my heart, aid me that I loiter no more. A full salvation is what my soul aims at; but ah! how grovelling and low are my desires! language is too poor to express my poverty, when seen in the light of the Sun of righteousness.