« PreviousContinue »
It was under a jealous apprehension of the transitory nature of her religious convictions, and feelings, that Miss Holmes formed a resolution to make no references to them, till by a process of trial she had acquired some satisfactory evidences of their permanency. She rcmembered an observation which she once heard the venerable Newton make, when preaching on the parable of the sower. "Genuine religion is distinguished from that which is spurious, not so much by the dissimilarity of its first impressions, as by its power to resist temptation, and to bring the dispositions of the heart into a subjection to the authority of Jesus Christ."
Her indisposition, though severe and protracted, was at no period considered to be dangerous-it kept her away from those fascinating scenes to which she would otherwise have been exposed, and gave her an opportunity of devoting her attention more coolly and dispassionately to that subject which now began to appear pre-eminently interesting and important. She knew that her sins were more in number than she could calculate, and that the sentence of condemnation which stood recorded against her was just; but such was the strength of her faith in the efficacy of the Saviour's death, and the prevalence of his intercession, that she was filled with all peace in believing, abounding in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost. Her transition from a state of nature to a state of grace-from the pleasures of sense to those of faith-from the delusive charms of the visible, to the more attractive glories of the unseen world, was sudden and delightful, unattended by those deep and pungent convictions of guilt, and that overpowering apprehension of future woe, which sometimes torture and distract the mind of the young disciple. This was primarily owing to the accurate knowledge of the scheme of salvation which she had acquired by sitting under the enlightened ministry of Mr. Newton; for while it must not be concealed, that the beginning and consummation of personal religion in the heart, is to be attributed to the immediate influence of a supernatural power, it is equally evident that its progress in allaying that fear that produceth torment-in instilling that peace which passeth all understanding-and in elevating and fixing the affections on things above, is usually in pro
portion to the accuracy and extent of the theologica information which is possessed.
"Many," says an interesting writer," are too prone to look for a conversion always uniform, not only in its effects, but in its operation, and too much bordering on the miraculous. The soul must be exceedingly terrified with fear-then overwhelmed with anguish-then plunged into despair-then suddenly filled with hope, and peace, and joy; and the person must be able to determine the day on which, and the sermon, or the paragraph, or the providence by which the change was wrought. But this is by no means necessarily, or generally the case; there is a variety in the temperaments and habits of men, and in the methods employed to bring them to repentance. We should remember that there are differences of administration, but the same Lord; that often he prefers to the earthquake, the wind, and the fire, the small still voice; that he can draw by the cords of love, and the bands of a man that he can work as effectually by slow, as by instantaneous exertions-and that he may change the soul in a manner so gradual and mild, as to be scarcely discernible to any, but the glorious Author. And here we are furnished with evidence from analogy. In nature, some of God's works insensibly issue in others, and it is impossible for us to draw the line of distinction. The path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. But who can ascertain which ray begins, or which ends the dawn? If you are unable to trace the progress of the divine life, judge by the result. When you perceive the effects of conversion, never question the cause. And if perplexed by a number of circumstantial inquiries, be satisfied if you are able to say, one thing I know, that whereas I was once blind; now I see."
The chastened seriousness of her spirit, and the new course of reading which she adopted, induced the family to suppose that she was taking a religious turn; though she cautiously abstained from making any direct communication as to the state of her mind. She felt fully convinced that some essential change had taken place yet at times she doubted if it was any thing more than the effect of her own uninfluenced decision; and as she had more than once experienced a mental excitement
of a very similar nature, she rejoiced with trembling. She knew that the righteous hold on their way, and are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation; but as she was often perplexed when endeavouring to ascertain whether she belonged to that specific denomination of character, she could not anticipate the issue of her impressions with unmingled satisfaction. She felt a distaste for those objects of pursuit, and sources of gratification, which had acquired such a powerful ascendancy over her, and now longed to partake of the more refined enjoyment which results from communion with the members of the household of faith, and the public exercises of devotion; but she dreaded the prospect of coming into contact with the world, lest another revulsion of feeling should take place, which would leave her still more insensible than ever, to the unseen realities of eternity.
The Saviour, in his various offices, was now precious to her, as he is to all them that believe; she dwelt with holy awe and delight on that union of majesty and condescension-purity and compassion-justice and grace, which he displays in his mediatorial character; but she was apprehensive that when exposed to the rival influence of sensible objects, her mind would again be enslaved by their charms, and lose that exquisite susceptibility of impression from her new themes of contemplation and enjoyment, which no human power can ever produce.
Thus it is wisely ordained that, at every period in the experience of the Christian, there shall be some circumstance to perplex his judgment—some uncertainty to darken his prospect-some apprehension to disturb his peace-to convince him, that here perfect bliss can never be found; and that no attainments however high-that no excitements however delicate and strong-that no anticipations however bright and animating, are capable, while we are encompassed with infirmities, of yielding unmingled satisfaction and delight. In the following letter, which she addressed to her friend, Mrs. Loader, she made the first direct communication of the state of her mind, which I have no doubt will rescue her from the charges of precipitancy, or enthusiasm, which the more fastidious would venture to allege against her.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
I am much obliged by your affectionate epistle, which I received on the 10th, and I regret that you should deem any apology necessary for the introduction of that specific advice which it contained. My obvious indifference to the momentous question of personal religion; and my growing conformity to the customs and habits of the gay and the thoughtless around me, must I have no doubt, have been a source of considerable uneasiness and alarm to your susceptive mind; and I assure you, that it often plunged me into the deepest melancholy of spirit. I was often cheerful, but never happy; often trying fresh expedients to divert my attention from what I deemed the gloomy subject, but never could succeed; and though I became more insensible to the attractions of religion as I grew in years, yet I exposed myself more frequently to the keenness of its reproofs, and the awful solemnities of its threatenings. Those with whom I associated, who had not had the privilege of a pious education, could enjoy the world, and treat with levity the prohibitory injunctions of the sacred Scriptures, but I could not. I never could divest myself of the full conviction, that God has the first claim on the affections of the heart; and that he has appointed a day, when every human being must appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. These thoughts would sometimes rush into my mind, not only when alone, but when in the midst of the most fascinating scenes; they would torture me, in the presence of the gayest mirth, and often compel me to deplore the hour I first yielded to temptation.
It was under the most agonizing mental conflict I ever sustained, that I hailed our tour to the West, as - likely to dissolve that fatal charm by which I was subdued and enslaved; but I found on my return, that my heart had undergone no change, as I often secretly anticipated a re-entrance into that circle, against which my conscience often spoke in loudest accents. Our dear Mr. Newton once remarked, that as 'our dangers often spring out of our conflicts; so the greatest blessings
sometimes grow out of our heaviest afflictions. The correctness of this remark I can attest from experience. It was on our return from the West, where I had spent some of the happiest days of my life; and just as I was about to enter my father's house, that I met with that accident which has confined me a close prisoner for more than two months; but to that accident which I called fatal, I owe all my present felicity, and my prospect of future.
You express a hope that I have given the book which you so kindly presented to me, a candid perusal, presuming that no season can be more favourable for such subjects of inquiry, than those which we denominate afflictive. Yes, my dear friend, I have read it, though I felt such a reluctance to do so, that I put it far from me several times, and had not my word stood pledged, I had still been a stranger to its interesting contents. I read on carelessly till I came to the tenth chapter, when the subject fixed my attention, and I hope penetrated my heart. Then I felt that I was a sinner-then I felt that I stood solitary and alone, in the immediate presence of my legislator and my judge, confounded because righteously condemned-then I felt that I needed a Saviour. I have had many strong convictions of the truth and the necessity of religion in the earlier seasons of my life; but those which were produced on this occasion were more clear, and full, and powerful, than any that ever preceded them. They came, with an authority which I could not resist; they prevented all vacillation of mind; they constrained me with a force which I have no disposition to withstand, to yield to their influence; and though my evil heart of unbelief would sometimes suggest, that all is a delusion artfully practised on my imagination by Satan, who transforms himself into an angel of light: yet I can say, in reference to Him, who is the chief among ten thousand, Whom having not seen, I love; in whom, though now I see him not, yet believing, I rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
When, my dear friend, I received that present from your hand, I did not calculate on the effects which it was ordained to produce; for though I feel unworthy of the notice of the friend of sinners, yet, on reviewing the re