Transcribed from the 1900 T. Nelson and Sons edition by David Price, email firstname.lastname@example.org
THE ANNALS OF THE POOR
BY THE REV. LEGH RICHMOND, M.A., LATE RECTOR OF TURVEY, BEDFORDSHIRE.
"Thou, O God, hast prepared of thy goodness for the poor."
PSALM lxviii. 10.
London: T. NELSON AND SONS, PATERNOSTER ROW. EDINBURGH; AND NEW YORK. 1900
THE DAIRYMAN'S DAUGHTER.
It is a delightful employment to discover and trace the operations of divine grace, as they are manifested in the dispositions and lives of God's real children. It is peculiarly gratifying to observe how frequently among the poorer classes of mankind the sunshine of mercy beams upon the heart, and bears witness to the image of Christ which the Spirit of God has impressed thereupon. Among such, the sincerity and simplicity of the Christian character appear unencumbered by those obstacles to spirituality of mind and conversation which too often prove a great hindrance to those who live in the higher ranks. Many are the difficulties which riches, worldly consequence, high connections, and the luxuriant refinements of polished society, throw in the way of religious profession. Happy indeed it is (and some such happy instances I know) where grace has so strikingly supported its conflict with natural pride, self-importance, the allurements of luxury, ease, and worldly opinion, that the noble and mighty appear adorned with genuine poverty of spirit, self-denial, humble-mindedness, and deep spirituality of heart.
But, in general, if we want to see religion in its most simple and pure character, we must look for it among the poor of this world who are rich in faith. How often is the poor man's cottage the palace of God! Many can truly declare that they have there learned the most valuable lessons of faith and hope, and there witnessed the most striking demonstrations of the wisdom, power, and goodness of God.
The character which the present narrative is designed to introduce to the notice of my readers is given from real life and circumstances. I first became acquainted with her by receiving the following letter, which I transcribe from the original now before me:—
"I take the liberty to write to you. Pray excuse me, for I have never spoken to you. But I once heard you, when you preached at —- Church. I believe you are a faithful preacher to warn sinners to flee from the wrath that will be revealed against all those that live in sin, and die impenitent. Pray go on in the strength of the Lord. And may he bless you, and crown your labour of love with success, and give you souls for your hire!
"The Lord has promised to be with those whom he calls and sends forth to preach his word, to the end of time; for without him we can do nothing. I was much rejoiced to hear of those marks of love and affection to that poor soldier of the S. D. militia. Surely the love of Christ sent you to that poor man. May that love ever dwell richly in you by faith! May it constrain you to seek the wandering souls of men with the fervent desire to spend and be spent for his glory! May the unction of the Holy Spirit attend the word spoken by you with power, and convey deep conviction to the hearts of your hearers! May many of them experience the divine change of being made new creatures in Christ!
"Sir, be fervent in prayer with God for the conversion of sinners. His power is great, and who can withstand it? He has promised to answer the prayer of faith, that is put up in his Son's name. 'Ask what ye will, it shall be granted you.' How this should strengthen our faith, when we are taught by the word and the Spirit how to pray! Oh, that sweet inspiring hope! how it lifts up the fainting spirits, when we look over the precious promises of God! What a mercy if we know Christ and the power of his resurrection in our own hearts! Through faith in Christ we rejoice in hope, and look up in expectation of that time drawing near when all shall know and fear the Lord, and when a nation shall be born in a day.
"What a happy time when Christ's kingdom shall come! Then shall 'his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.' Men shall be daily fed with the manna of his love, and delight themselves with the Lord all the day long. Then what a paradise below they will enjoy! How it animates and enlivens my soul with vigour to pursue the ways of God, that I may even now bear some humble part in giving glory to God and the Lamb!
"Sir, I began to write this on Sunday, being detained from attending on public worship. My dear and only sister, living as a servant with Mrs. —-, was so ill, that I came here to attend in her place and on her. But now she is no more.
"I was going to entreat you to write to her in answer to this, she being convinced of the evil of her past life, and that she had not walked in the ways of God, nor sought to please him. But she earnestly desired to do so. This makes me have a comfortable hope that she is gone to glory, and that she is now joining in sweet concert with the angelic host in heaven to sing the wonders of redeeming love. I hope I may now write, 'Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.'
"She expressed a desire to receive the Lord's Supper, and commemorate his precious death and sufferings. I told her as well as I was able what it was to receive Christ into her heart; but as her weakness of body increased, she did not mention it again. She seemed quite resigned before she died. I do hope she is gone from a world of death and sin to be with God for ever.
"Sir, I hope you will not be offended with me, a poor ignorant person, to take such a liberty as to write to you. But I trust, as you are called to instruct sinners in the ways of God, you will bear with me, and be so kind to answer this ill-wrote letter, and give me some instruction. It is my heart's desire to have the mind that was in Christ, that when I awake up in his likeness then I may be satisfied.
"My sister expressed a wish that you might bury her. The minister of our parish, whither she will be carried, cannot come. She will lie at —-. She died on Tuesday morning, and will be buried on Friday or Saturday (whichever is most convenient to you), at three o'clock in the afternoon. Please to send an answer by the bearer, to let me know whether you can comply with this request
"From your unworthy servant, "ELIZABETH W—-."
I was much struck with the simple and earnest strain of devotion which this letter breathed. It was but indifferently written and spelt. But this the rather tended to endear the hitherto unknown writer, as it seemed characteristic of the union of humbleness of station with eminence of piety. I felt quite thankful that I was favoured with a correspondent of this description; the more so, as such characters were at that time very rare in the neighbourhood. I have often wished that epistolary intercourse of this kind were more encouraged and practised among us. I have the greatest reason to speak well of its effects both on myself and others. Communication by letter as well as by conversation with the pious poor has often been the instrument of animating and reviving my own heart in the midst of duty, and of giving me the most profitable information for the general conduct of the ministerial office.
As soon as the letter was read I inquired who was the bearer of it.
"He is waiting at the outside of the gate, sir," was the reply.
I went out to speak him, and saw a venerable old man, whose long hoary hair and deeply wrinkled countenance commanded more than common respect. He was resting his arm upon the gate, and tears were streaming down his cheeks. On my approach he made a low bow, and said,—
"Sir, I have brought you a letter from my daughter, but I fear you will think us very bold in asking you to take so much trouble."
"By no means," I replied; "I shall be truly glad to oblige you and any of your family in this matter, provided it be quite agreeable to the minister of your parish."
"Sir, he told me yesterday that he should be very glad if I could procure some gentleman to come and bury my poor child for him, as he lives five miles off, and has particular business on that day; so when I told my daughter, she asked me to come to you, sir, and bring that letter, which would explain the matter."
I desired him to come into the house, and then said,—
"What is your occupation?"
"Sir, I have lived most of my days in a little cottage at —-, six miles from here. I have rented a few acres of ground, and kept some cows, which, in addition to my day-labour, has been the means of supporting and bringing up my family."
"What family have you?"
"A wife, now getting very aged and helpless; two sons, and one daughter; for my other poor dear child is just departed out of this wicked world."
"I hope for a better."
"I hope so too. Poor thing, she did not use to take to such good ways as her sister; but I do believe that her sister's manner of talking with her before she died was the means of saving her soul. What a mercy it is to have such a child as mine is! I never thought about my own soul seriously till she, poor girl, begged me to flee from the wrath to come."
"How old are you?"
"Near seventy, and my wife is older. We are getting old, and almost past our labour, but our daughter has left a good place, where she lived in service, on purpose to come home and take care of us and our little dairy. And a dear, dutiful, affectionate girl she is."
"Was she always so?"
"No, sir; when she was very young she was all for the world, and pleasure, and dress, and company. Indeed we were all very ignorant, and thought if we took care for this life, and wronged nobody, we should be sure to go to heaven at last. My daughters were both wilful, and, like ourselves, strangers to the ways of God and the word of his grace. But the eldest of them went out to service, and some years ago she heard a sermon, preached at —- church by a gentleman that was going to —- as chaplain to the colony, and from that time she seemed quite another creature. She began to read the Bible, and became sober and steady. The first time she returned home afterwards to see us she brought us a guinea, which she had saved from her wages, and said, as we were getting old, she was sure we should want help, adding, that she did not wish to spend it in fine clothes as she used to do, only to feed pride and vanity. She said she would rather show gratitude to her dear father and mother, because Christ had shown such mercy to her.
"We wondered to hear her talk, and took great delight in her company; for her temper and behaviour were so humble and kind, she seemed so desirous to do us good both in soul and body, and was so different from what we had ever seen her before, that careless and ignorant as we had been, we began to think there must be something real in religion, or it never could alter a person so much in a little time.
"Her youngest sister, poor soul! used to laugh and ridicule her at that time, and said her head was turned with her new ways. 'No, sister,' she would say, 'not my head but I hope my heart is turned from the love of sin to the love of God. I wish you may one day see, as I do, the danger and vanity of your present condition.'
"Her poor sister would reply, 'I do not want to hear any of your preaching; I am no worse than other people, and that is enough for me.' 'Well, sister,' Elizabeth would say, 'if you will not hear me, you cannot hinder me from praying for you, which I do with all my heart.'
"And now, sir, I believe those prayers are answered. For when her sister was taken ill, Elizabeth went to Mrs. —-'s to wait in her place, and take care of her. She said a great deal to her about her soul, and the poor girl began to be so deeply affected and sensible of her past sin, and so thankful for her sister's kind behaviour, that it gave her great hopes indeed for her sake. When my wife and I went to see her as she lay sick, she told us how grieved and ashamed she was of her past life, but said she had a hope, through grace, that her dear sister's Saviour would be her Saviour too, for she saw her own sinfulness, felt her own helplessness, and only wished to cast herself upon Christ as her hope and salvation.
"And now, sir, she is gone, and I hope and think her sister's prayers for her conversion to God have been answered. The Lord grant the same for her poor father and mother's sake likewise!"
This conversation was a very pleasing commentary upon the letter which I had received, and made me anxious both to comply with the request and to become acquainted with the writer. I promised the good dairyman to attend on the Friday at the appointed hour; and after some more conversation respecting his own state of mind under the present trial, he went away.
He was a reverend old man; his furrowed cheeks, white locks, weeping eyes, bent shoulders, and feeble gait, were characteristic of the aged pilgrim. As he slowly walked onward, supported by a stick, which seemed to have been the companion of many a long year, a train of reflections occurred, which I retrace with pleasure and emotion.
At the appointed hour I arrived at the church, and after a little while was summoned to the churchyard gate to meet the funeral procession. The aged parents, the elder brother, and the sister, with other relatives, formed an affecting group. I was struck with the humble, pious, and pleasing countenance of the young woman from whom I had received the letter. It bore the marks of great seriousness without affectation, and of much serenity mingled with a glow of devotion.
A circumstance occurred during the reading of the Burial Service, which I think it right to mention as one among many testimonies of the solemn and impressive tendency of our truly evangelical Liturgy.
A man of the village, who had hitherto been of a very careless and even profligate character, went into the church through mere curiosity, and with no better purpose than that of vacantly gazing at the ceremony. He came likewise to the grave, and during the reading of those prayers which are appointed for that part of the service, his mind received a deep, serious conviction of his sin and spiritual danger. It was an impression that never wore off, but gradually ripened into the most satisfactory evidence of an entire change, of which I had many and long-continued proofs. He always referred to the Burial Service, and to some particular sentences of it, as the clearly ascertained instrument of bringing him, through grace, to the knowledge of the truth.
The day was therefore one to be remembered. Remembered let it be by those who love to hear "the short and simple annals of the poor."
Was there not a manifest and happy connection between the circumstances that providentially brought the serious and the careless to the same grave on that day together? How much do they lose who neglect to trace the leadings of God in providence as links in the chain of his eternal purpose of redemption and grace!
"While infidels may scoff, let us adore!"
After the service was concluded I had a short conversation with the good old couple and their daughter. She told me that she intended to remain a week or two at the gentleman's house where her sister died till another servant should arrive and take her sister's place.
"I shall be truly obliged," said she, "by an opportunity of conversing with you, either there or at my father's when I return home, which will be in the course of a fortnight at the furthest. I shall be glad to talk to you about my sister, whom you have just buried."
Her aspect and address were highly interesting. I promised to see her very soon, and then returned home, quietly reflecting on the circumstances of the funeral at which I had been engaged. I blessed the God of the poor, and prayed that the poor might become rich in faith, and the rich be made poor in spirit.
A sweet solemnity often possesses the mind whilst retracing past intercourse with departed friends. How much is this increased when they were such as lived and died in the Lord! The remembrance of former scenes and conversations with those who, we believe, are now enjoying the uninterrupted happiness of a better world, fills the heart with pleasing sadness, and animates the soul with the hopeful anticipation of a day when the glory of the Lord shall be revealed in the assembling of all his children together, never more to be separated. Whether they were rich or poor while on earth is a matter of trifling consequence: the valuable part of their character is, that they are "kings and priests unto God;" and this is their true nobility. In the number of now departed believers, with whom I once loved to converse on the grace and glory of the kingdom of God, was the Dairyman's daughter.
About a week after the funeral, I went to visit the family at —-, in whose service the younger sister had lived and died, and where Elizabeth was requested to remain for a short time in her stead.
The house was a large and venerable mansion. It stood in a beautiful valley at the foot of a high hill. It was embowered in fine woods, which were interspersed in every direction with rising, falling, and swelling grounds. The manor-house had evidently descended through a long line of ancestry, from a distant period of time. The Gothic character of its original architecture was still preserved in the latticed windows, adorned with carved divisions and pillars and stonework. Several pointed terminations also, in the construction of the roof, according to the custom of our forefathers, fully corresponded with the general features of the building.
One end of the house was entirely clothed with the thick foliage of an immense ivy, which climbed beyond customary limits, and embraced a lofty chimney up to its very summit. Such a tree seemed congenial to the walls that supported it, and conspired with the antique fashion of the place to carry imagination back to the days of our ancestors.
As I approached, I was led to reflect on the lapse of ages, and the successive generations of men, each in their turn occupying lands, houses, and domains; each in their turn also disappearing, and leaving their inheritance to be enjoyed by others. David once observed the same, and cried out, "Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth, and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Surely every man walketh in a vain show; surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them."
Happy would it be for the rich if they more frequently meditated on the uncertainty of all their possessions, and the frail nature of every earthly tenure. "Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling-places to all generations: they call their lands after their own names. Nevertheless, man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish. This their way is their folly; yet their posterity approve their sayings. Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling."
As I advanced to the mansion, a pleasing kind of gloom overspread the front: it was occasioned by the shade of trees, and gave a characteristic effect to the ancient fabric. I instantly recollected that death had very recently visited the house and that one of its present inhabitants was an affectionate mourner for a departed sister.
There is a solemnity in the thought of a recent death, which will associate itself with the very walls from whence we are conscious that a soul has just taken its flight to eternity.
After passing some time in conversation with the superiors of the family, in the course of which I was much gratified by hearing of the unremitted attention which the elder sister had paid to the younger during the illness of the latter, I received likewise other testimonies of the excellency of her general character and conduct in the house. I then took leave, requesting permission to see her, agreeably to the promise I had made at the funeral, not many days before.
I was shown into a parlour, where I found her alone. She was in deep mourning. She had a calmness and serenity in her countenance which exceedingly struck me, and impressed some idea of those attainments which a further acquaintance with her afterwards so much increased.
She spoke of her sister. I had the satisfaction of finding that she had given very hopeful proofs of a change of heart before she died. The prayers and earnest exhortations of Elizabeth had been blessed to a happy effect. She described what had passed with such a mixture of sisterly affection and pious dependence on the mercy of God to sinners, as convinced me that her own heart was under the influence of "pure and undefiled religion."
She requested leave occasionally to correspond with me on serious subjects, stating that she needed much instruction. She hoped I would pardon the liberty which she had taken by introducing herself to my notice. She expressed a trust that the Lord would overrule both the death of her sister and the personal acquaintance with me that resulted from it, to a present and future good, as it respected herself, and also her parents, with whom she statedly lived, and to whom she expected to return in a few days.
Finding that she was wanted in some household duty, I did not remain long with her, but left her with an assurance that I proposed to visit her parents very shortly.
"Sir," said she, "I take it very kind that you have condescended to leave the company of the rich, and converse with the poor. I wish I could have said more to you respecting my own state of mind. Perhaps I shall be better able another time. When you next visit me, instead of finding me in these noble walls, you will see me in a poor cottage. But I am happiest when there. Once more, sir, I thank you for your past kindness to me and mine, and may God in many ways bless you for it!"
I quitted the house with no small degree of satisfaction, in consequence of the new acquaintance which I had formed. I discovered traces of a cultivated as well as a spiritual mind. I felt that religious intercourse with those of low estate may be rendered eminently useful to others, whose outward station and advantages are far above their own.
How often does it appear that "God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are; that no flesh should glory in his presence!"
It was not unfrequently my custom, when my mind was filled with any interesting subject for meditation, to seek some spot where the beauties of natural prospect might help to form pleasing and useful associations. I therefore ascended gradually to the very summit of the hill adjoining the mansion where my visit had just been made. Here was placed an elevated sea-mark: it was in the form of a triangular pyramid, and built of stone. I sat down on the ground near it, and looked at the surrounding prospect, which was distinguished for beauty and magnificence. It was a lofty station, which commanded a complete circle of interesting objects to engage the spectator's attention. Southward the view was terminated by a long range of hills, at about six miles distance. They met to the westward another chain of hills, of which the one whereon I sat formed a link, and the whole together nearly encompassed a rich and fruitful valley, filled with cornfields and pastures. Through this vale winded a small river for many miles: much cattle were feeding on its banks. Here and there lesser eminences arose in the valley: some covered with wood, others with corn or grass, and a few with heath or fern. One of these little hills was distinguished by a parish church at the top, presenting a striking feature in the landscape. Another of these elevations, situated in the centre of the valley, was adorned with a venerable holly-tree, which has grown there for ages. Its singular height and wide-spreading dimensions not only render it an object of curiosity to the traveller, but of daily usefulness to the pilot, as a mark visible from the sea, whereby to direct his vessel safe into harbour. Villages, churches, country-seats, farm-houses, and cottages, were scattered over every part of the southern valley. In this direction also, at the foot of the hill where I was stationed, appeared the ancient mansion which I had just quitted, embellished with its woods, groves, and gardens.
South-eastward I saw the open ocean, bounded only by the horizon. The sun shone, and gilded the waves with a glittering light that sparkled in the most brilliant manner. More to the east, in continuation of that line of hills where I was placed, rose two downs, one beyond the other, both covered with sheep, and the sea just visible over the furthest of them, as a terminating boundary. In this point ships were seen, some sailing, others at anchor. Here the little river which watered the southern valley finished its course, and ran through meadows into the sea, in an eastward direction.
On the north the sea appeared like a noble river, varying from three to seven miles in breadth, between the banks of the opposite coast and those of the island which I inhabited. Immediately underneath me was a fine woody district of country, diversified by many pleasing objects. Distant towns were visible on the opposite shore. Numbers of ships occupied the sheltered station which this northern channel afforded them. The eye roamed with delight over an expanse of near and remote beauties, which alternately caught the observation, and which harmonized together, and produced a scene of peculiar interest.
Westward the hills followed each other, forming several intermediate and partial valleys, in a kind of undulations, like the waves of the sea; and, bending to the south, completed the boundary of the larger valley before described, to the southward of the hill on which I sat. In many instances the hills were cultivated with corn to their very summits, and seemed to defy the inclemency of the weather, which, at these heights, usually renders the ground incapable of bringing forth and ripening the crops of grain. One hill alone, the highest in elevation, and about ten miles to the south-westward, was enveloped in a cloud, which just permitted a dim and hazy sight of a signal-post, a light-house, and an ancient chantry, built on its summit.
Amidst these numerous specimens of delightful scenery I found a mount for contemplation, and here I indulged it. "How much of the natural beauties of Paradise still remain in the world, although its spiritual character has been so awfully defaced by sin! But when divine grace renews the heart of the fallen sinner, Paradise is regained, and much of its beauty restored to the soul. As this prospect is compounded of hill and dale, land and sea, woods and plains, all sweetly blended together, and relieving each other in the landscape; so do the gracious dispositions wrought in the soul produce a beauty and harmony of scene to which it was before a stranger."
I looked towards the village in the plain below, where the Dairyman's younger daughter was buried. I retraced the simple solemnities of the funeral. I connected the principles and conduct of her sister with the present probably happy state of her soul in the world of spirits, and was greatly impressed with a sense of the importance of family influence as a means of grace. "That young woman," I thought, "has been the conductor of not only a sister, but perhaps a father and mother also, to the true knowledge of God, and may, by the divine blessing, become so to others. It is a glorious occupation to win souls to Christ, and guide them out of Egyptian bondage through the wilderness into the promised Canaan. Happy are the families who are walking hand in hand together, as pilgrims, towards the heavenly country. May the number of such be daily increased?"
Casting my eye over the numerous dwellings in the vales on my right and left, I could not help thinking, "How many of their inhabitants are ignorant of the ways of God, and strangers to his grace! May this thought stimulate to activity and diligence in the cause of immortal souls! They are precious in God's sight—they ought to be so in ours."
Some pointed and affecting observations to that effect recurred to my mind as having been made by the young person with whom I had been just conversing. Her mind appeared to be much impressed with the duty of speaking and acting for God "while it is day," conscious that "the night cometh, when no man can work." Her laudable anxiety on this head was often testified to me afterwards, both by letter and conversation. What she felt herself, in respect to endeavours to do good, she happily communicated to others with whom she corresponded or conversed.
Time would not permit my continuing so long in the enjoyment of these meditations, on this lovely mount of observation, as my heart desired. On my return home I wrote a few lines to the Dairyman's daughter, chiefly dictated by the train of thought which had occupied my mind while I sat on the hill.
On the next Sunday evening I received her reply, of which the following is a transcript:—
"I am this day deprived of an opportunity of attending the house of God, to worship him. But, glory be to his name, he is not confined to time or place. I feel him present with me where I am, and his presence makes my paradise; for where he is, is heaven. I pray God that a double portion of his grace and Holy Spirit may rest upon you this day; that his blessing may attend all your faithful labours; and that you may find the truth of his word assuring us that wherever we assemble together in his name, there is he in the midst to bless every waiting soul.
"How precious are all his promises! We ought never to doubt the truth of his word. For he will never deceive us if we go on in faith, always expecting to receive what his goodness waits to give. Dear sir, I have felt it very consoling to read your kind letter to-day. I feel thankful to God for ministers in our church who love and fear his name: there it is where the people in general look for salvation; and there may they ever find it, for Jesus' sake! May his word, spoken by you, his chosen vessel of grace, be made spirit and life to their dead souls! May it come from you as an instrument in the hands of God, as sharp arrows from a strong archer, and strike a death-blow to all their sins! How I long to see the arrows of conviction fasten on the minds of those that are hearers of the word, and not doers! O sir, be ambitious for the glory of God and the salvation of souls! It will add to the lustre of your crown in glory, as well as to your present joy and peace. We should be willing to spend and be spent in his service, saying, 'Lord, may thy will be done by me on earth, even as it is by the angels in heaven.' So you may expect to see his face with joy, and say, 'Here am I, Lord, and all the souls thou hast given me.'
"It seems wonderful that we should neglect any opportunity of doing good, when there is, if it be done from love to God and his creatures, a present reward of grace, in reflecting that we are using the talents committed to our care, according to the power and ability which we receive from him. God requires not what he has not promised to give. But when we look back, and reflect that there have been opportunities in which we have neglected to take up our cross and speak and act for God, what a dejection of mind we feel! We are then justly filled with shame. Conscious of being ashamed of Christ, we cannot come with that holy boldness to a throne of grace, nor feel that free access when we make our supplications.
"We are commanded to provoke one another to love and good works; and where two are agreed together in the things of God, they may say,—
'And if our fellowship below In Jesus be so sweet, What heights of rapture shall we know When round the throne we meet!'
"Sir, I hope Mrs. —- and you are both of one heart and one mind. Then you will sweetly agree in all things that make for your present and eternal happiness. Christ sent his disciples out, not singly, but two and two, that they might comfort and help each other in those ways and works which their Lord commanded them to pursue.
"It has been my lot to have been alone the greatest part of the time that I have known the ways of God. I therefore find it such a treat to my soul when I can meet with any who love to talk of the goodness and love of God, and all his gracious dealings. What a comfortable reflection, to think of spending a whole eternity in that delightful employment! to tell to listening angels his love 'immense, unsearchable!'
"Dear sir, I thank you for your kindness and condescension in leaving those that are of high rank and birth in the world, to converse with me, who am but a servant here below. But when I consider what a high calling, what honour and dignity, God has conferred upon me, to be called his child, to be born of his Spirit, made an heir of glory, and joint heir with Christ; how humble and circumspect should I be in all my ways, as a dutiful and loving child to an affectionate and loving Father! When I seriously consider these things, it fills me with love and gratitude to God; and I do not wish for any higher station, nor envy the rich. I rather pity them, if they are not good as well as great. My blessed Lord was pleased to appear in the form of a servant, and I long to be like him.
"I did not feel in so happy a frame of conversation that day, nor yet that liberty to explain my thoughts which I sometimes do. The fault must have been all in myself; for there was nothing in you but what seemed to evidence a Christian spirit, temper, and disposition. I very much wished for an opportunity to converse with you. I feel very thankful to God that you do take up the cross, and despise the shame: if you are found faithful, you will soon sit down with him in glory.
"I have written to the Rev. Mr. —-, to thank him for permitting you to perform the burial service at —- over my dear departed sister, and to tell him of the kind way in which you consented to do it. I should mention that your manner of reading the service on that day had a considerable effect on the hearers.
"Pray excuse all faults, and correct my errors. I expect in a few days to return home to my parents' house. We shall rejoice to see you there.
"From your humble servant in Christ,
It was impossible to view such a correspondent with indifference. I had just returned from a little cottage assembly, where, on Sunday evenings, I sometimes went to instruct a few poor families in one of the hamlets belonging to my parish. I read the letter, and closed the day with thanksgiving to God for thus enabling those who fear his name to build up each other in fear and love.
Of old time "they that feared the Lord spake often one to another; and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name."
That book of remembrance is not yet closed.
The mind of man is like a moving picture, supplied with objects not only from contemplation on things present, but from the fruitful sources of recollection and anticipation.
Memory retraces past events, and restores an ideal reality to scenes which are gone by for ever. They live again in revived imagery, and we seem to hear and see with renewed emotions what we heard and saw at a former period. Successions of such recollected circumstances often form a series of welcome memorials. In religious meditations, the memory becomes a sanctified instrument of spiritual improvement.
Another part of this animated picture is furnished by the pencil of Hope. She draws encouraging prospects for the soul, by connecting the past and the present with the future. Seeing the promises afar off, she is persuaded of their truth, and embraces them as her own.
The Spirit of God gives a blessing to both these acts of the mind, and employs them in the service of religion. Every faculty of body and soul, when considered as a part of "the purchased possession" of the Saviour, assumes a new character. How powerfully does the apostle on this ground urge a plea for holy activity and watchfulness! "What! know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."
The Christian may derive much profit and enjoyment from the use of the memory as it concerns those transactions in which he once bore a part. In his endeavours to recall past conversations and intercourse with deceased friends, in particular, the powers of remembrance greatly improve by exercise. One revived idea produces another, till the mind is most agreeably and usefully occupied with lively and holy imaginations.
"Lulled in the countless chambers of the brain, Our thoughts are linked by many a hidden chain. Awake but one, and lo! what myriads rise! Each stamps its image as the other flies. Each, as the varied avenues of sense Delight or sorrow to the soul dispense, Brightens or fades; yet all, with sacred art, Control the latent fibres of the heart."
May it please God to bless, both to the reader and the writer, this feeble attempt to recollect some of the communications which I once enjoyed in my visits to the Dairyman's dwelling.
Very soon after the receipt of the last letter, I rode for the first time to see the family at their own house. The principal part of the road lay through retired narrow lanes, beautifully overarched with groves of nut and other trees, which screened the traveller from the rays of the sun, and afforded many interesting objects for admiration, in the flowers, shrubs, and young trees, which grew upon the high banks on each side of the road. Many grotesque rocks, with little trickling streams of water occasionally breaking out of them, varied the recluse scenery, and produced a romantic and pleasing effect.
Here and there the more distant prospect beyond was observable through gaps and hollow places on the roadside. Lofty hills, with many signal- posts, obelisks, and light-houses on their summits, appeared at these intervals; rich cornfields were also visible through some of the open places; and now and then, when the road ascended a hill, the sea, with ships at various distances, was seen. But for the most part shady seclusion, and objects of a more minute and confined nature, gave a character to the journey, and invited contemplation.
How much do they lose who are strangers to serious meditation on the wonders and beauties of nature! How gloriously the God of creation shines in his works! Not a tree, or leaf, or flower, not a bird or insect, but it proclaims in glowing language, "God made me."
As I approached the village where the good old Dairyman dwelt, I observed him in a little field, driving his two cows before him towards a yard and hovel which adjoined his cottage. I advanced very near him without his observing me, for his sight was dim. On my calling out to him, he started at the sound of my voice, but with much gladness of heart welcomed me, saying, "Bless your heart, sir, I am glad you are come: we have looked for you every day this week."
The cottage door opened, and the daughter came out, followed by her aged and infirm mother. The sight of me naturally brought to recollection the grave at which we had before met. Tears of affection mingled with the smile of satisfaction with which I was received by these worthy cottagers. I dismounted and was conducted through a neat little garden, part of which was shaded by two large overspreading elm-trees, to the house. Decency and order were manifested within and without. No excuse was made here, on the score of poverty, for confusion and uncleanliness in the disposal of their little household. Everything wore the aspect of neatness and propriety. On each side of the fireplace stood an old oaken arm-chair, where the venerable parents rested their weary limbs after the day's labour was over. On a shelf in one corner lay two Bibles, with a few religious books and tracts. The little room had two windows: a lovely prospect of hills, woods, and fields, appeared through one; and the other was more than half obscured by the branches of a vine which was trained across it; between its leaves the sun shone, and cast a cheerful light over the whole place.
"This," thought I, "is a fit residence for piety, peace, and contentment. May I learn a fresh lesson for advancement in each, through the blessing of God on this visit."
"Sir," said the daughter, "we are not worthy that you should come under our roof. We take it very kind that you should travel so far to see us."
"My Master," I replied, "came a great deal further to visit us poor sinners. He left the bosom of his Father, laid aside his glory, and came down to this lower world on a visit of mercy and love; and ought not we, if we profess to follow him, to bear each other's infirmities, and go about doing good as he did?"
The old man now entered, and joined his wife and daughter in giving me a cordial welcome. Our conversation soon turned to the loss they had so lately sustained. The pious and sensible disposition of the daughter was peculiarly manifested, as well in what she said to her parents as in what she more immediately addressed to myself. I had now a further opportunity of remarking the good sense and agreeable manner which accompanied her expressions of devotedness to God, and love to Christ for the great mercies which he had bestowed upon her. During her residence in different gentlemen's families where she had been in service, she had acquired a superior behaviour and address; but sincere piety rendered her very humble and unassuming in manner and conversation. She seemed anxious to improve the opportunity of my visit to the best purpose for her own and her parents' sake; yet there was nothing of unbecoming forwardness, no self-confidence or conceitedness in her conduct. She united the firmness and solicitude of the Christian with the modesty of the female and the dutifulness of the daughter. It was impossible to be in her company and not observe how truly her temper and conversation adorned the principles which she professed.
I soon discovered how eager and how successful also she had been in her endeavours to bring her father and mother to the knowledge and experience of the truth. This is a lovely feature in the character of a young Christian. If it have pleased God, in the free dispensation of his mercy, to call the child by his grace while the parents remain still in ignorance and sin, how great is the duty incumbent on that child to do what is possible to promote the conversion of those to whom so much is owing! Happy is it when the ties of grace sanctify those of nature!
The aged couple evidently regarded and spoke of this daughter as their teacher and admonisher in divine things, while at the same time they received from her every token of filial submission and obedience, testified by continual endeavours to serve and assist them to the utmost of her power in the daily concerns of the household.
The religion of this young woman was of a highly spiritual character, and of no ordinary attainment. Her views of the divine plan in saving the sinner were clear and scriptural. She spoke much of the joys and sorrows which, in the course of her religious progress, she had experienced; but she was fully sensible that there is far more in real religion than mere occasional transition from one frame of mind and spirits to another. She believed that the experimental acquaintance of the heart with God principally consisted in so living upon Christ by faith as to aim at living like him by love. She knew that the love of God toward the sinner, and the path of duty prescribed to the sinner, are both of an unchangeable nature. In a believing dependence on the one, and an affectionate walk in the other, she sought and found "the peace of God which passeth all understanding;" for "so he giveth his beloved rest."
She had read but few books besides her Bible; but these few were excellent in their kind, and she spoke of their contents as one who knew their value. In addition to a Bible and Prayer-book, "Doddridge's Rise and Progress," "Romaine's Life, Walk, and Triumph of Faith," "Bunyan's Pilgrim," "Alleine's Alarm," "Baxter's Saint's Everlasting Rest," a hymn- book, and a few tracts, completed her library.
I observed in her countenance a pale and delicate hue, which I afterwards found to be a presage of consumption; and the idea then occurred to me that she would not live very long.
Time passed on swiftly with this interesting family, and after having partaken of some plain and wholesome refreshment, and enjoyed a few hours' conversation with them, I found it was necessary for me to return homewards. The disposition and character of the parties may be in some sort ascertained by the expressions at parting.
"God send you safe home again," said the aged mother, "and bless the day that brought you to see two poor old creatures such as we are, in our trouble and affliction. Come again, sir, come again when you can; and though I am a poor ignorant soul, and not fit to talk to such a gentleman as you, yet my dear child shall speak for me. She is the greatest comfort I have left, and I hope the good Lord will spare her to support my trembling limbs and feeble spirits, till I lie down with my other dear departed children in the grave."
"Trust to the Lord," I answered, "and remember his gracious promise: 'Even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs I will carry you.'"
"I thank you, sir," said the daughter, "for your Christian kindness to me and my friends. I believe the blessing of the Lord has attended your visit, and I hope I have experienced it to be so. My dear father and mother will, I am sure, remember it; and I rejoice in the opportunity of seeing so kind a friend under this roof. My Saviour has been abundantly good to me, in plucking me as 'a brand from the burning,' and showing me the way of life and peace; and I hope it is my heart's desire to live to his glory. But I long to see these dear friends enjoy the power and comfort of religion likewise."
"I think it evident," I replied, "that the promise is fulfilled in their case: 'It shall come to pass that at evening time it shall be light."
"I believe it," she said, "and praise God for the blessed hope."
"Thank him, too, that you have been the happy instrument of bringing them to the light."
"I do, sir; yet when I think of my own unworthiness and insufficiency, I rejoice with trembling."
"Sir," said the good old man, "I am sure the Lord will reward you for this kindness. Pray for us, old as we are, and sinners as we have been, that yet he would have mercy upon us at the eleventh hour. Poor Betsy strives much for our sakes, both in body and soul: she works hard all day to save us trouble, and I fear has not strength to support all she does; and then she talks to us, and reads to us, and prays for us, that we may be saved from the wrath to come. Indeed, sir, she's a rare child to us."
"Peace be to you, and to all that belong to you!"
"Amen, and thank you, dear sir," was echoed from each tongue.
Thus we parted for that time. My returning meditations were sweet, and I hope profitable.
Many other visits were afterwards made by me to this peaceful cottage, and I always found increasing reason to thank God for the intercourse I there enjoyed.
An interval of some length occurred once during that year in which I had not seen the Dairyman's family. I was reminded of the circumstance by the receipt of the following letter:—
"I have been expecting to see or hear from you for a considerable time. Excuse the liberty I take in sending you another letter. I have been confined to the house the greater part of the time since I left —-. I took cold that day, and have been worse ever since. I walk out a little on these fine days, but seem to myself to walk very near the borders of eternity. Glory be to God, it is a very pleasing prospect before me! Though I feel the working of sin, and am abased, yet Jesus shows his mercy to be mine, and I trust that I am his. At such times—
'My soul would leave this heavy clay At his transporting word, Run up with joy the shining way To meet and prove the Lord.
Fearless of hell and ghastly death, I'd break through ev'ry foe; The wings of love and arms of faith Would bear me conqu'ror through.'
My desire is to live every moment to God, that I may, through his grace, be kept in that heavenly, happy frame of mind, that I shall wish for at the hour of death. We cannot live or die happy without this; and to keep it, we must be continually watching and praying: for we have many enemies to disturb our peace. I am so very weak, that now I can go nowhere to any outward means for that help which is so refreshing to my spirit.
"I should have been very happy to have heard you last Sunday, when you preached at —-. I could not walk so far. I hope the word spoken by you was made a blessing to many who heard it. It was my earnest prayer to God that it might be so. But, alas! once calling does not awaken many that are in a sound sleep. Yet the voice of God is sometimes very powerful, when his ministers speak; when they are influenced by his Holy Spirit, and are simple and sincere in holding forth the word of life. Then it will teach us all things, and enlighten our mind and reveal unto us the hidden things of darkness, and give us out of that divine treasure 'things new and old.' Resting on God to work in us both to will and to do of his own good pleasure, we ought always to work as diligent servants, that know they have a good Master, that will surely not forget their labour of love.
"If we could but fix our eyes always on that crown of glory that waits us in the skies, we should never grow weary in well-doing, but should run with patience and delight in the work and ways of God, where he appoints us. We should not then, as we too frequently do, suffer these trifling objects here on earth to draw away our minds from God, to rob him of his glory and our souls of that happiness and comfort which the believer may enjoy amidst outward afflictions. If we thus lived more by faith in the Son of God, we should endeavour to stir up all whom we could to seek after God. We should tell them what he has done for us, and what he would do for them if they truly sought him. We should show them what a glorious expectation there is for all true believers and sincere seekers.
"When our minds are so fixed on God, we are more desirous of glorifying him, in making known his goodness to us, than the proud rich man is of getting honour to himself. I mourn over my own backwardness to this exercise of duty, when I think of God's willingness to save the vilest of the vile, according to the dispensations of his eternal grace and mercy. Oh, how amiable, how lovely does this make that God of love appear to poor sinners, that can view him as such! How is the soul delighted with such a contemplation! They that have much forgiven, how much they love!
"These thoughts have been much on my mind since the death of —-. I trust the Lord will pardon me for neglect. I thought it was my duty to speak or write to him: you remember what I said to you respecting it. But I still delayed till a more convenient season. Oh, how I was struck when I heard the Lord had taken him so suddenly! I was filled with sorrow and shame for having neglected what I had so often resolved to do. But now the time of speaking for God to him was over. Hence we see that the Lord's time is the best time. Now the night of death was come upon him; no more work was to be done. If I had done all that lay in my power to proclaim reconciliation by Christ to his soul, whether he had heard or no, I should have been clear of his blood. But I cannot recall the time that is past, nor him from the grave. Had I known the Lord would have called him so suddenly, how diligent I should have been to warn him of his danger! But it is enough that God shows us what we are to do, and not what he is about to do with us or any of his creatures. Pray, sir, do all you can for the glory of God. The time will soon pass by, and then we shall enter that glorious rest that he hath prepared for them that love him. I pray God to fill you with that zeal and love which he only can inspire, that you may daily win souls to Christ. May he deliver you from all slavish fear of man, and give you boldness, as he did of old those that were filled with the Holy Ghost and with power!
"Remember, Christ has promised to be with all his faithful ministers to the end of time. The greater dangers and difficulties they are exposed to, the more powerful his assistance. Then, sir, let us fear none but him. I hope you will pray much for me, a poor sinner, that God will perfect his strength in my weakness of body and mind; for without him I can do nothing. But when I can experience the teaching of that Holy One, I need no other teacher. May the Lord anoint you with the same, and give you every grace of his Holy Spirit, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God; that you may know what is the height and depth, the length and breadth, of the love of God in Christ Jesus; that you may be in the hand of the Lord as a keen archer to draw the bow, while the Lord directs and fastens the arrows of conviction in the hearts of such as are under your ministry!
"I sincerely pray that you may be made a blessing to him that has taken the place of the deceased. I have heard that you are fellow- countrymen: I hope you are, however, both as strangers in this world, that have no abiding place, but seek a country out of sight.
"Pray excuse all faults.
"From your humble servant in the bonds of the gospel of Christ,
When I perused this and other letters, which were at different times written to me by the Dairyman's daughter, I felt that in the person of this interesting correspondent were singularly united the characters of a humble disciple and a faithful monitor. I wished to acknowledge the goodness of God in each of these her capacities.
I sometimes entertain a hope that the last day will unfold the value of these epistolary communications, beyond even any present estimate of their spiritual importance.
The translation of sinners "from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son," is the joy of Christians and the admiration of angels. Every penitent and pardoned soul is a new witness to the triumphs of the Redeemer over sin, death, and the grave. How great the change that is wrought! The child of wrath becomes a monument of grace—a brand plucked from the burning! "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." How marvellous, how interesting, is the spiritual history of each individual believer! He is, like David, "a wonder to many," but the greatest wonder of all to himself. Others may doubt whether it be so or not; but to him it is unequivocally proved, that, from first to last, grace alone reigns in the work of his salvation.
The character and privileges of real Christians are beautifully described in the language of our church; which, when speaking of the objects of divine favour and compassion, says: "They that be endued with so excellent a benefit of God, be called according to God's purpose in due season: they through grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works; and at length, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity."
Such a conception and display of the almighty wisdom, power, and love, is indeed "full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ mortifying the works of the flesh and their earthly members, and drawing up their minds to high and heavenly things: it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal salvation, to be enjoyed through Christ, and doth fervently kindle their love towards God."
Nearly allied to the consolation of a good hope through grace, as it respects our own personal state before God, is that of seeing its evidences shed lustre over the disposition and conduct of others. Bright was the exhibition of the union between true Christian enjoyment and Christian exertion, in the character whose moral and spiritual features I am attempting to delineate.
It seemed to be the first wish of her heart to prove to others, what God had already proved to her, that Jesus is "the way, and the truth, and the life." She desired to evince the reality of her calling, justification, and adoption into the family of God, by showing a conformity to the image of Christ, and by walking "religiously in good works:" she trusted that, in this path of faith and obedience, she should "at length, by God's mercy, attain to everlasting felicity."
I had the spiritual charge of another parish, adjoining to that in which I resided. It was a small district, and had but few inhabitants. The church was pleasantly situated on a rising bank, at the foot of a considerable hill. It was surrounded by trees, and had a rural, retired appearance. Close to the church-yard stood a large old mansion, which had formerly been the residence of an opulent and titled family; but it had long since been appropriated to the use of the estate as a farm-house. Its outward aspect bore considerable remains of ancient grandeur, and gave a pleasing character to the spot of ground on which the church stood.
In every direction the roads that led to this house of God possessed distinct but interesting features. One of them ascended between several rural cottages, from the sea-shore, which adjoined the lower part of the village street. Another winded round the curved sides of the adjacent hill, and was adorned, both above and below, with numerous sheep, feeding on the herbage of the down. A third road led to the church by a gently rising approach between high banks, covered with young trees, bushes, ivy, hedge-plants, and wild flowers.
From a point of land which commanded a view of all these several avenues, I used sometimes for a while to watch my congregation gradually assembling together at the hour of Sabbath worship. They were in some directions visible for a considerable distance. Gratifying associations of thought would form in my mind, as I contemplated their approach, and successive arrival, within the precincts of the house of prayer.
One day as I was thus occupied, during a short interval previous to the hour of divine service, I reflected on the joy which David experienced at the time he exclaimed: "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together; whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the Lord."
I was led to reflect upon the various blessings connected with the establishment of public worship. "How many immortal souls are now gathering together to perform the all-important work of prayer and praise—to hear the word of God—to feed upon the bread of life! They are leaving their respective dwellings, and will soon be united together in the house of prayer. How beautifully does this represent the effect produced by the voice of the 'Good Shepherd,' calling his sheep from every part of the wilderness into his fold! As these fields, hills, and lanes, are now covered with men, women, and children, in various directions, drawing nearer to each other, and to the object of their journey's end; even so, 'many shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.'"
Who can rightly appreciate the value of such hours as these?—hours spent in learning the ways of holy pleasantness and the paths of heavenly peace—hours devoted to the service of God and of souls; in warning the sinner to flee from the wrath to come; in teaching the ignorant how to live and die; in preaching the gospel to the poor; in healing the broken- hearted; in declaring "deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind."—"Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance. In thy name they shall rejoice all the day, and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted."
My thoughts then pursued a train of reflection on the importance of the ministerial office, as connected in the purposes of God with the salvation of sinners. I inwardly prayed that those many individuals whom he had given me to instruct, might not, through my neglect or error, be as sheep having no shepherd, nor as the blind led by the blind; but rather that I might, in season and out of season, faithfully proclaim the simple and undisguised truths of the gospel, to the glory of God and the prosperity of his church.
At that instant, near the bottom of the enclosed lane which led to the church-yard, I observed a friend, whom, at such a distance from his home, I little expected to meet. It was the venerable Dairyman. He came up the ascent, leaning with one hand on his trusty staff, and with the other on the arm of a younger man, well known to me, who appeared to be much gratified in meeting with such a companion by the way.
My station was on the top of one of the banks which formed the hollow road beneath. They passed a few yards below me. I was concealed from their sight by a projecting tree. They were talking of the mercies of God, and the unsearchable riches of his grace. The Dairyman was telling his companion what a blessing the Lord had given him in his daughter. His countenance brightened as he named her, and called her his precious Betsy.
I met them at a stile not many yards beyond, and accompanied them to the church, which was hard by.
"Sir," said the old man, "I have brought a letter from my daughter, I hope I am in time for divine service. Seven miles has now become a long walk for me: I grow old and weak. I am very glad to see you, sir."
"How is your daughter?"
"Very poorly indeed, sir,—very poorly. The doctors say it is a decline. I sometimes hope she will get the better of it; but then again I have many fears. You know, sir, that I have cause to love and prize her. Oh, it would be such a trial! but the Lord knows what is best. Excuse my weakness, sir."
He put a letter into my hand, the perusal of which I reserved till afterwards, as the time was nigh for going into church.
The presence of this aged pilgrim, the peculiar reverence and affection with which he joined in the different parts of the service, excited many gratifying thoughts in my mind, such as rather furthered than interrupted devotion.
The train of reflection in which I had been engaged when I first discovered him on the road, at intervals recurred powerfully to my feelings, as I viewed that very congregation assembled together in the house of God, whose steps, in their approach towards it, I had watched with prayerful emotions.
"Here the rich and poor meet together in mutual acknowledgment that the Lord is the maker of them all; and that all are alike dependent creatures, looking up to one common Father to supply their wants, both temporal and spiritual.
"Again, likewise, will they meet together in the grave, that undistinguished receptacle of the opulent and the needy.
"And once more, at the judgment-seat of Christ shall the rich and the poor meet together, that 'every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.'
"How closely connected in the history of man are these three periods of a general meeting together?
"The house of prayer—the house appointed for all living—and the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. May we never separate these ideas from each other, but retain them in a sacred and profitable union! So shall our worshipping assemblies on earth be representative of the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven."
When the congregation dispersed, I entered into discourse with the Dairyman and a few of the poor of my flock, whose minds were of the like disposition to his own. He seldom could speak long together without some reference to his dear child. He loved to tell how merciful his God had been to him, in the dutiful and affectionate attentions of his daughter. All real Christians feel a tender spiritual attachment towards those who have been the instrument of bringing them to an effectual knowledge of the way of salvation; but when that instrument is one so nearly allied, how dear does the relationship become!
If my friend the Dairyman was in any danger of falling into idolatry, his child would have been the idol of his affections. She was the prop and stay of her parents' declining years, and they scarcely knew how sufficiently to testify the gratitude of their hearts for the comfort and blessing which she was the means of affording them.
While he was relating several particulars of his family history to the others, I opened and read the following letter:—
"Once more I take the liberty to trouble you with a few lines. I received your letter with great pleasure, and thank you for it. I am now so weak that I am unable to walk to any public place of divine worship,—a privilege which has heretofore always so much strengthened and refreshed me. I used to go in anxious expectation to meet my God, and hold sweet communion with him; and I was seldom disappointed. In the means of grace all the channels of divine mercy are open to every heart that is lifted up to receive out of that divine fulness grace for grace. These are the times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. How have I rejoiced to hear a faithful and lively messenger, just come, as it were, from communion with God at the throne of grace, with his heart warmed and filled with divine love, to speak to fallen sinners! Such a one has seemed to me as if his face shone as that of Moses did with the glory of God, when he came down from the mount, where he had been within the veil. May you, sir, imitate him, as he did Christ, that all may see and know that the Lord dwelleth with you, and that you dwell in him through the unity of the blessed Spirit. I trust you are no stranger to his divine teaching, aid, and assistance, in all you set your hand to do for the glory of God.
"I hope, sir, the sincerity of my wishes for your spiritual welfare will plead an excuse for the freedom of my address to you. I pray the Giver of every perfect gift, that you may experience the mighty workings of his gracious Spirit in your heart and your ministry, and rest your all on the justifying and purifying blood of an expired Redeemer. Then will you triumph in his strength, and be enabled to say with the poet,—
'Shall I, through fear of feeble man, The Spirit's course strive to restrain; Or, undismayed in deed and word, Be a true witness for my Lord?
Awed by a mortal's frown shall I Conceal the word of God most high? How then before thee shall I dare To stand, or how thine anger bear?
Shall I, to soothe the unholy throng, Soften thy truths and smooth my tongue, To gain earth's gilded toys, or flee The cross endured, my God, by thee?
What then is he whose scorn I dread. Whose wrath or hate makes me afraid? A man? an heir of death? a slave To sin? a bubble on the wave?
Yea, let men rage, since thou wilt spread Thy shadowing wings around my head: Since in all pain thy tender love Will still my sure refreshment prove.
Still shall the love of Christ restrain To seek the wand'ring souls of men, With cries, entreaties, tears to save, And snatch them from the yawning grave.
For this let men revile my name,— No cross I shun, I fear no shame: All hail reproach, and welcome pain; Only thy terrors, Lord, restrain.'
"I trust, sir, that you see what a glorious high calling yours is, and that you are one of those who walk humbly with God, that you may be taught of him in all things. Persons in your place are messengers of the most high God. Is it too much to say, they should live like the angels in all holiness, and be filled with love and zeal for men's souls? They are ambassadors, in Christ's stead, to persuade sinners to be reconciled to God. So that your calling is above that of angels: for they are afterwards to minister to the heirs of salvation; but the sinner must be first reconciled to God. And you are called on from day to day to intercede with man as his friend, that you may win souls to Christ. Christ is ascended up on high, to intercede with his Father for guilty sinners, and to plead for them the merits of his death. So that Christ and his faithful ministers, through the operation of the blessed Spirit, are co-workers together. Yet without him we can do nothing: our strength is his strength, and his is all the glory from first to last.
"It is my heart's prayer and desire, sir, that you may, by a living faith, cleave close to that blessed, exalted Lamb of God, who died to redeem us from sin—that you may have a sweet communion with Father, Son, and Spirit—that you may sink deep in humble love, and rise high in the life of God. Thus will you have such discoveries of the beauties of Christ and his eternal glory as will fill your heart with true delight.
"If I am not deceived, I wish myself to enjoy his gracious favour, more than all the treasures which earth can afford. I would in comparison look upon them with holy disdain, and as not worth an anxious thought, that they may not have power on my heart to draw or attract it from God, who is worthy of my highest esteem, and of all my affections. It should be our endeavour to set him always before us, that in all things we may act as in his immediate presence; that we may be filled with that holy fear, so that we may not dare wilfully to sin against him. We should earnestly entreat the Lord to mortify the power and working of sin and unbelief within us, by making Christ appear more and more precious in our eyes, and more dear to our hearts.
"It fills my heart with thankful recollections, while I attempt in this weak manner to speak of God's love to man. When I reflect on my past sins and his past mercies, I am assured, that if I had all the gifts of wise men and angels, I could never sufficiently describe my own inward sense of his undeserved love towards me. We can better enjoy these glorious apprehensions in our hearts than explain them to others. But, oh, how unworthy of them are we all! Consciousness of my own corruptions keeps me often low; yet faith and desire will easily mount on high, beseeching God that he would, according to the apostle's prayer, fill me with all his communicable fulness, in the gifts and graces of his Spirit; that I may walk well-pleasing before him, in all holy conversation, perfecting holiness in his fear.
"If I err in boldness, sir, pray pardon me, and in your next letter confirm my hope that you will be my counsellor and guide.
"I can only recompense your kindness to me by my prayers, that your own intercourse with God may be abundantly blessed to you and yours. I consider the Saviour saying to you, as he did to Peter, 'Lovest thou me?' And may your heartfelt experience be compelled to reply, 'Thou knowest all things, and thou knowest that I love thee' supremely! May he have evident marks of it in all your outward actions of love and humanity in feeding his flock, and in the inward fervour and affection of all your consecrated powers: that you may be zealously engaged in pulling down the strongholds of sin and Satan, and building up his Church; sowing the seeds of righteousness, and praying God to give the increase: that you may not labour for him in vain, but may see the trees bud and blossom, and bring forth fruit abundantly, to the praise and glory of your heavenly Master. In order to give you encouragement, he says, whosoever 'converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death;' and that will increase the brightness of your crown in glory. This hath Christ merited for his faithful ministers.
"I hope, sir, you will receive grace to be sincere in reproving sin, wherever you see it. You will find divine assistance, and all fear and shame taken from you. Great peace will be given to you, and wisdom, strength, and courage, according to your work. You will be as Paul; having much learning, you can speak to men in all stations in life, by God's assistance. The fear of offending them will never prevent you, when you consider the glory of God; and man's immortal soul is of more value than his present favour and esteem. In particular, you are in an office wherein you can visit all the sick. Man's extremity is often God's opportunity. In this way you may prove an instrument in his hand to do his work. Although he can work without means, yet his usual way is by means; and I trust you are a chosen vessel unto him, to prove his name and declare his truth to all men.
"Visiting the sick is a strict command, and a duty for every Christian. None can tell what good may be done. I wish it was never neglected, as it too often is. Many think that if they attend in the church, the minister to preach, and the people to hear, their duty is done. But more is required than this. May the Lord stir up the gift that is in his people and ministers, that they may have compassion on their fellow-sinners,—that they may never think it too late, but remember that while there is life there is hope!" Once more I pray, sir, pardon and excuse all my errors in judgment, and the ignorance that this is penned in; and may God bless you in all things, and particularly your friendship to me and my parents. What a comfort is family religion! I do not doubt but this is your desire, as it is mine, to say,—
'I and my house will serve the Lord, But first obedient to his word I must myself appear; By actions, words, and tempers show That I my heavenly Master know, And serve with heart sincere.
I must the fair example set; From those that on my pleasure wait The stumbling-block remove; Their duty by my life explain, And still in all my works maintain The dignity of love.
Easy to be entreated, mild, Quickly appeased and reconciled, A follower of my God: A saint indeed I long to be, And lead my faithful family In the celestial road.
Lord, if thou dost the wish infuse, A vessel fitted for thy use Into thy hands receive: Work in me both to will and do, And show them how believers true And real Christians live.
With all sufficient grace supply, And then I'll come to testify The wonders of thy name, Which saves from sin, the world, and hell: Its power may every sinner feel, And every tongue proclaim!
Cleansed by the blood of Christ from sin, I seek my relatives to win, And preach their sins forgiven; Children, and wife, and servants seize, And through the paths of pleasantness Conduct them all to heaven.'
"Living so much in a solitary way, books are my companions; and poetry which speaks of the love of God and the mercies of Christ is very sweet to my mind. This must be my excuse for troubling you to read verses which others have written. I have intended, if my declining state of health permit, to go to —- for a few days. I say this lest you should call in expectation of seeing me during any part of next week. But my dear father and mother, for whose precious souls I am very anxious, will reap the benefit of your visit at all events.
"From your humble and unworthy servant,
Having read it, I said to the father of my highly valued correspondent,—
"I thank you for being the bearer of this letter. Your daughter is a kind friend and faithful counsellor to me, as well as to you. Tell her how highly I esteem her friendship, and that I feel truly obliged for the many excellent sentiments which she has here expressed. Give her my blessing, and assure her that the oftener she writes the more thankful I shall be."
The Dairyman's enlivened eye gleamed with pleasure as I spoke. The praise of his Elizabeth was a string which could not be touched without causing every nerve of his whole frame to vibrate.
His voice half faltered as he spoke in reply; the tear started in his eyes; his hand trembled as I pressed it; his heart was full; he could only say,—
"Sir, a poor old man thanks you for your kindness to him and his family. God bless you, sir; I hope we shall soon see you again."
Thus we parted for that day.
It has not unfrequently been observed, that when it is the Lord's pleasure to remove any of his faithful followers out of this life at an early period of their course, they make rapid progress in the experience of divine truth. The fruits of the Spirit ripen fast as they advance to the close of mortal existence. In particular, they grow in humility, through a deeper sense of inward corruption and a clearer view of the perfect character of the Saviour. Disease and bodily weakness make the thoughts of eternity recur with frequency and power. The great question of their own personal salvation, the quality of their faith, the sincerity of their love, and the purity of their hope, are in continual exercise.
Unseen realities at such a time occupy a larger portion of thought than before. The state of existence beyond the grave, the invisible world, the unalterable character of the dead, the future judgment, the total separation from everything earthly, the dissolution of body and spirit, and their re-union at the solemn hour of resurrection—these are subjects for their meditation, which call for serious earnestness of soul. Whatever consolations from the Spirit of God they may have enjoyed heretofore, they become now doubly anxious to examine and prove themselves whether they be indeed in the faith. In doing this, they sometimes pass through hidden conflicts of a dark and distressing nature; from which, however, they come forth like gold tried in the furnace. Awhile they may sow in tears, but soon they reap in joy.
Their religious feelings have then, perhaps, less of ecstasy, but more of serenity.
As the ears of corn ripen for the harvest, they bow their heads nearer to the ground. So it is with believers: they then see more than ever of their own imperfection, and often express their sense of it in strong language; yet they repose with a growing confidence on the love of God through Christ Jesus. The nearer they advance to their eternal rest, the more humble they become, but not the less useful in their sphere. They feel anxiously desirous of improving every talent they possess to the glory of God, knowing that the time is short.
I thought I observed the truth of these remarks fulfilled in the progressive state of mind of the Dairyman's daughter.
Declining health seemed to indicate the will of God concerning her. But her character, conduct, and experience of the Divine favour, increased in brightness as the setting sun of her mortal life approached its horizon. The last letter which, with the exception of a very short note, I ever received from her, I shall now transcribe. It appeared to me to bear the marks of a still deeper acquaintance with the workings of her own heart, and a more entire reliance upon the free mercy of God.
The original, while I copy it, strongly revives the image of the deceased, and the many profitable conversations which I once enjoyed in her company, and that of her parents. It again endears to me the recollections of cottage piety, and helps me to anticipate the joys of that day when the spirits of the glorified saints shall be re-united to their bodies, and be for ever with the Lord.
The writer of this and the preceding letters herself little imagined, when they were penned, that they would ever be submitted to the public eye; that they now are so, results from a conviction that the friends of the pious poor will estimate them according to their value; and a hope that it may please God to honour these memorials of the dead, to the effectual edification of the living.
"In consequence of your kind permission, I take the liberty to trouble you with another of my ill-written letters; and I trust you have too much of your blessed Master's lowly, meek, and humble mind, to be offended with a poor, simple, ignorant creature, whose intentions are pure and sincere in writing. My desire is, that I, a weak vessel of his grace, may glorify his name for his goodness towards me. May the Lord direct me by his counsel and wisdom! May he overshadow me with his presence, that I may sit beneath the banner of his love, and find the consolations of his blessed Spirit sweet and refreshing to my soul.
"When I feel that I am nothing, and God is all in all, then I can willingly fly to him, saying, 'Lord, help me; Lord, teach me; be unto me my prophet, priest, and king. Let me know the teaching of thy grace, and the disclosing of thy love.' What nearness of access might we have, if we lived more near to God! What sweet communion might we have with a God of love! He is the great I AM. How glorious a name! Angels with trembling awe prostrate themselves before him, and in humble love adore and worship him. One says—
'While the first archangel sings, He hides his face behind his wings.'
Unworthy as I am, I have found it by experience that the more I see of the greatness and goodness of God, and the nearer union I hope I have had with him through the Spirit of his love, the more humble and self- abased I have been.
"But every day I may say, 'Lord, how little I love thee, how far I live from thee, how little am I like thee in humility!' It is, nevertheless, my heart's desire to love and serve him better. I find the way in which God does more particularly bless me, is when I attend on the public ordinances of religion. These are the channels through which he conveys the riches of his grace and precious love to my soul. These I have often found to be indeed the time of refreshing and strengthening from the presence of the Lord. Then I can see my hope of an interest in the covenant of his love, and praise him for his mercy to the greatest of sinners.
"I earnestly wish to be more established in his ways, and to honour him in the path of duty, whilst I enjoy the smiles of his favour. In the midst of all outward afflictions I pray that I may know Christ and the power of his resurrection within my soul. If I were always thus, my summer would last all the year; my will would then be sweetly lost in God's will, and I should feel a resignation in every dispensation of his providence and his grace, saying, 'Good is the will of the Lord: Infinite Wisdom cannot err.' Then would patience have its perfect work.
"But, alas! sin and unbelief often, too often, interrupt these frames, and lay me low before God in tears of sorrow. I often think what a happiness it would be if his love were so fixed in my heart that I might willingly obey him with alacrity and delight, and gradually mortify the power of self-will, passion, and pride. This can only arise from a good hope through grace that we are washed in that precious blood which cleanses us from every sinful stain, and makes us new creatures in Christ. Oh that we may be the happy witnesses of the saving power and virtue of that healing stream which flows from the fountain of everlasting love!