"Chapter XV." by Isaac Taylor, Jr., of Stanford Rivers
THREE or four years were thus passed at home by my sister, in the quiet discharge of domestic and religious duties; interrupted only by occasional visits to her friends. During this time, the slow progress of her complaint kept her mind in a state of anxiety, and deterred her from attempting to execute some literary projects which had often employed her thoughts;–besides keeping up her correspondence with her friends, and writing the papers before mentioned, she composed, I believe, nothing but the fragment which stands first among the Poetical Remains; and some pieces expressive of personal feeling; of which two or three are also now printed.
Besides the delicate and declining state of her own health, my sister's thoughts were much occupied by the continued illness of her father:–during these times of domestic affliction, it was impossible for her to abstract her attention from present interests. In the autumn of the year 1820, she attended him to Margate; and had the pleasure of seeing her beloved parent surmount a disorder which had long threatened his life.
Early in the following year, Miss Taylor again left home, to visit her sister, Mrs. Gilbert: she continued at Hull more than four months; in [Page 232] which time she made excursions to York and Scarborough. In this visit she seemed to enjoy the pleasures of general society more than at any former time. Yet it was but for an hour that ever the flattering attentions she often received abroad drew away her thoughts from the domestic circle, within which her heart reposed.
This excursion appeared so much to have improved her general health, that there seemed reason to believe that, so long as her mind could be agreeably occupied, without too much excitement, her complaint might remain in a quiescent state. In this hope, her many kind friends in Yorkshire, Devon, and in the neighborhood of London, warmly urged her to pass her time in successive visits among them:–she felt deeply the kindness of these invitations; and believed also that this frequent change of scene, and these social pleasures, would be more likely than any other means to promote her recovery. But she determined rather to remain at home. This determination, I have reason to know, was influenced chiefly by a regard to her religious interests; for she had felt, with regret and fear, the effects of continued external excitements, in diverting her attention from objects of supreme importance. She trembled at the danger of losing sight of her highest hopes: she wished, now, to call home her thoughts, and to converse with her own heart, without interruption. Such were the motives which she repeatedly avowed to those with whom she was accustomed [Page 233] to converse confidentially, when urged to avail herself of the kind invitations of her friends:–"I find," she often said, "that home is the place that suits me best."
It was, therefore, with a free and deliberate preference of the interests of the soul to those of this life, that she returned to seclusion, and to the offices of christian charity, when she had every facility, and strong motives for pursuing a different course.
But that tranquillity and abstraction from earthly interests which she so much desired and enjoyed, was not to be of long continuance; for soon after her return to Ongar, she found herself unexpectedly placed in circumstances in which her feelings became deeply interested; and the results of which continued, through the short remainder of her life, to keep her mind in a state of painful agitation, and to call into the fullest exercise her christian principles. Her health also suffered, as must be supposed, from the same causes; and from this time, she herself distinctly anticipated the fatal termination of the disease that had so long threatened her life.
The house at Marden Ash, near Ongar, in which my father had lived eight years, being at this time let with the farm to which it belonged, he removed from it to a house, which he purchased in the town. This new abode, though altogether more commodious than the last, was so much less suited to my sister's tastes, that she felt many regrets [Page 234] at the removal, and it evidently increased the depression of her spirits; and thus hastened the progress of her disorder. In the autumn of the year 1821, attended by one of her brothers, and a nephew, she visited Margate, where she placed herself under a new medical direction, and with the view of giving full effect to the course of remedies recommended, she passed the following winter months near London, where she could have the advantage of constant advice. The months passed in this way gave her the pleasure and advantage of daily intercourse with a new friend, to whose kindness and christian counsels she thought herself deeply indebted. At this time, her opinion of her own case had become decidedly unfavorable, though still, when alarming symptoms abated, she admitted the hope of recovery. The state of her mind under these circumstances, was neither so tranquil as she wished, nor so much agitated as those who knew the timidity of her disposition had feared it would have been.
Her feelings are described in a letter to Mrs. Gilbert; from which the following passages are extracted:–after informing her sister of the unfavorable opinion of her case, which had been given by two surgeons whom she had lately consulted, she says–
"You may judge then, dear Ann, what my expectations are, when I calmly and steadily view my present circumstances. Of late, too, I [Page 235] have felt my general health more affected than hitherto. But it requires much, utterly to extinguish the hope of recovery:–with God, nothing is impossible. Besides, it is really difficult, while occupied with the usual pursuits of life, and while able to go in and out, much as usual–it is difficult to realize the probability of death at hand. But it comes strangely across me at times, when, forgetting it, I have been planning as usual, for the future. Then a dark cloud overshadows me, and hides all earthly concerns from my sight; and I hear the murmurs of the deep waters: I expect I shall have deep waters to pass through:–already I feel 'the sting of death;' but am not without hope that it may be taken away."
Though the hope of recovery continued to agitate her mind, still her principal anxiety related to her hope of the better life. The doubts that, at times, distressed her, took their rise, for the most part, from the high notions she had formed of the requirements of Christianity. Of the way of salvation, as a free and full provision of mercy, she seemed to have a clear apprehension; but she had long believed, that, from the want of a sufficiently explicit, particular, and authoritative exposition of the law of Christ, as given to us in His discourses, and in the preceptive parts of the epistles, the Gospel is extensively and fatally abused in the professedly christian world; and she trembled lest the flatteries of self-love should delude her into a similar presumption. [Page 236]
It will be seen, from her letters, with how much pleasure she listened to those preachers with whom the great doctrine of salvation through the sacrifice of Christ, is the principal subject; and who, following the example of the apostles, make the freest offer of this salvation to their hearers. But still, she listened with jealousy, to the glad tidings thus proclaimed, unless constantly accompanied with a fearless, distinct, and uncompromising exposition of the parallel truth, that "every one shall receive according to his works." Her frequent expressions were such as these–"I have no doubt as to the way of salvation:–it lies upon the surface of the Scriptures; and appeals with the force of truth to every heart that is humbled by the conviction of personal guilt: but those who shall receive the benefit of this free salvation, and who shall be 'accounted worthy to stand before the throne,' are those who, on earth, are meet for heaven, by being truly like Christ:–and am I–are the mass of those of whom we are accustomed to think well–are they like Christ?"
Entertaining such views, my sister was often distressed with the apprehension that there are indeed "few who shall be saved;" and not being able to class herself among the few whose eminent holiness of temper, and of life, and whose abounding labors in the Lord, distinguish them, beyond doubt, as the disciples of Christ, she was long unable to admit the comfort of assured hope. [Page 237]
Whatever may be thought of this state of mind, and of the justness of those views which were the occasions of it, I have thought it right to mention them, and if it may suggest profitable reflection, to leave the subject with the reader.
Miss Taylor had, in consequence of peculiar circumstances, become deeply concerned for the welfare of the orphan family of a deceased friend. Her anxiety on their behalf, prompted her to address them, collectively, in the following letter:–
TO MISS S. M. AND HER SISTERS AND BROTHERS.
Ongar, Aug. 15, 1822.
* * * As my time is limited, I cannot devote much of it to subjects of inferior moment; but must address myself at once to that which is all important, and in which all other advices are included. But in treating this subject there is a peculiar difficulty in addressing those who, like you, are continually reminded of its importance, both by private and public instructions; to whom, therefore, every argument is familiar, and must appear common-place. Nor would I be thought to infer, by any remarks I may make, that your minds are not already impressed, more or less, with the importance of the subject. But from experience I know what need there is of being incessantly quickened and roused afresh; and it sometimes happens, that a word from a comparative stranger, has more effect than the same thing suggested by a familiar voice. [Page 238]
But now I know not where to begin, nor how to find language to reach the heights and depths of this boundless subject. No language indeed can do this: and therefore we find in the Scriptures no attempt is made beyond the most plain and simple statements; but which are, on that very account, the more striking. What, for instance, could the utmost powers of language add in force to that question–"What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" And, my dear friends, there is very great danger, notwithstanding all the warnings and admonitions we receive–there is very great danger of losing our souls! It is so easy to pass on from one stage of life to another–from youth to age, with good intentions towards religion, and with a common, respectable attention to it, without once coming to the point–without once tasting the happiness of a good hope, or enjoying the supreme satisfaction of making a full surrender of our hearts and lives to God. Multitudes of the professors of religion thus live and thus die–making their comfort and prosperity in this life their chief object of pursuit; and paying only so much attention to religion as they deem absolutely necessary to escape eternal destruction. But this is not Christianity, such as the Scriptures describe it: and it is surprising that, with the Bible in their hands, any persons can make so great a mistake about it. If God has not our hearts, we are not His:–He will accept nothing less. If [Page 239] our affections are not in heaven, we shall never reach it. I remember that, during my youth, I was for many years greatly discouraged, and almost in despair at last, on this account–feeling the impossibility of bringing my earthly mind to prefer spiritual things–to love God better than the world. At length, in a letter from a pious friend, I was reminded that this great work, though impossible to me, was easy to Him; and that he had promised to do it for all who ask. From that time my difficulties began to yield. I saw how absurd it was to doubt the promise of God; and that it was in respect to these very difficulties that he says "Seek and ye shall find." So that I began to see with unspeakable joy that the hardness, reluctance, and earthliness of my heart were no real obstacles, provided that I did but apply to Him for a cure. Yes, to cast ourselves entirely on God, to do all for us, in the diligent use of means, is the sure–the only way to obtain the benefit. But it is surprising what reluctance there is in the mind to do this; and how ready we are to try every other means first; especially we are unwilling to come by a simple act of faith to the Saviour, and to accept from Him a remedy for all the evils of our nature; although there is no other way: how much labor is often lost for want of this. Come to Him, my dear friends, and "He shall not cast you out." He declares He will not: and come as you are. It is Satan's constant artifice to persuade us that [Page 240] we must wait till we are fit to come; and as this faith that believes and lives, however simple, is the gift of God, pray incessantly–importunately, till you receive it.
I am sure you are all convinced already that delay, neglect, or indifference in religion, is the greatest folly–the deepest cruelty we can practise towards ourselves, as it respects our interests in the future world. And, indeed, it is so as to this world too. I have seen something more of life than you; and I have lived long enough to see that promise in numerous instances fulfilled, that, "they who seek first the kingdom God," have other things added to them, in a more especial and desirable way than those who make them the primary object. I am firmly convinced that, taking the whole of life together, the most pious and devoted persons–such as made an early and complete surrender of heart and life to God, have most real prosperity and success in this world, as well as infinitely more enjoyment of earthly good. But really this is a point scarcely worth proving, when the interests of a boundless futurity are concerned; yet as it is one of the chief illusions of "the father of lies" to persuade persons that, in becoming decidedly religious, they must sacrifice the choicest pleasures of life, and that God's ways are not "ways of pleasantness," it is desirable to expose the falsehood. All the real and reasonable enjoyments of life are entirely compatible, not only with an ordinary profession of [Page 241] religion, but with the highest spirituality of mind; and are greatly sweetened by it, if kept in their subordinate place: and as for the rest–the gaiety, the vanity, the evil tempers, the restless desires of a worldly heart, its selfishness and frowardness, and all those indulgences which are forbidden to us, they are as certainly destructive of our true interests and happiness here, as of our eternal happiness. Of this truth, experience too late convinces the most successful votaries of this world. But let us rise above these lower considerations;–the question is–are we desirous to secure the salvation of our souls? And it is impossible to fix a steady thought on eternity without being so. Then let us take the Bible for our rule, and never rest till we have a scriptural foundation for our hope; not till our life, as well as our creed, is conformed to its precepts and examples. Allow me then to mention those means which are most essential to the attainment of this happiness.
To use means is our part;–it is a comparatively easy part; and if we will not even do this, it shows that we are not at all in earnest on the subject. I will mention then, as the first and the last–as that which is indispensable to our making any progress in religion,–daily, constant, private, prayer. I am aware that where this habit has not been formed very early, there may be a sort of awkwardness and false shame felt in the commencement of it in a family; but it is false shame, [Page 242] which a little effort will conquer; and a short time entirely remove. I believe you know that it was my intention to have recommended this practice to you if not already adopted; and now I cannot feel satisfied without doing so; for if ever I was sure that I was giving good advice, I am sure of it in this instance; and I will–I must most earnestly request your attention to it. Perhaps some of you might reply that, seldom feeling inclined to prayer, it would generally be a formal and heartless service; but this is the very reason why it must never be neglected. This reluctance to spiritual engagements is what the best of Christians have to combat with; and it can only be overcome by prayer. If then you were to wait till you are of yourselves so disposed, depend upon it, you would pass through life, and plunge into eternity in a prayerless state; and although you may often engage in private devotion with little feeling, and no apparent benefit, yet there is one certain advantage gained by it, namely–that the habit is strengthened; and as we are creatures of habit, and God has made us so, He requires us to avail ourselves of its important advantages. If there is any one thing more than another among the many privileges of a religious education for which I feel thankful, it is the having been trained from my early years to retire, morning and evening, for this purpose. I found that a habit thus early and strongly formed, was not easily broken through, notwithstanding all the [Page 243] vanity of my youthful years: and however much I have to lament the abuse of it, yet, if ever I have known any thing of religion, it is to the closet that I must trace it; and I believe that universal experience testifies that our comfort and progress in the divine life are entirely regulated by the punctuality and fervency of our engagements there. There is no need that the exercise should be tedious;–a short portion of scripture read with thought; and a few simple sentences uttered with the whole heart, are far preferable to a much longer address, in which the same heartless phraseology is continually repeated. But as your desires enlarge, so will your petitions; and the more you are in earnest, the less liable you will be to fall into hackneyed and formal expressions.
There is another practice which, next to prayer and reading the scriptures, I have found most profitable;–I mean reading once every day, at the time either of morning or evening retirement, a few pages of some pious book–selecting for this purpose, not the light productions of the day, but the writings of the most eminently useful and impressive authors. Christian biography also, is peculiarly profitable. This custom need not add more than ten minutes to the time of retirement; and it is, I think, one of the very best means for retaining a daily impression of serious things. Habit also (try it for one month, and see if it is not so) will render this pleasant, even though it [Page 244] should seem irksome at first. If you will excuse my entering into such minute particulars (which I should not do on any other subject) I will add that the most advantageous time for the purposes I have recommended is not that of retiring for the night;–drowsiness will generally invade us then; besides, few young people can be quite alone at that time, and a prayer said by the bed-side, with a companion present, is not–I might almost say cannot be a personal prayer. It is a good–I will call it a blessed custom, for a family to disperse to their respective places of retirement half an hour before supper. Nor is it, you must be aware, from my own experience alone that I recommend it; for it is a practice which I know to be strictly observed by all my pious friends, and which I have remarked in every serious family in which I ever visited. As to the morning, it is highly desirable that it should take place before breakfast, as afterwards it interferes with other duties, and is in great danger of being quite neglected. Besides, it is as essential to the health of the body, as of the soul, to rise at least early enough for such a purpose. I fear I shall tire you, and will mention but one other thing, and that is the advantage of a more particular improvement of Sabbath evenings, as the time most suitable for longer retirement, and deeper thoughtfulness than the engagements of other days will admit.
My dear friends, be not contented with low aims and small attainments in religion:–they are [Page 245] indeed fearful signs of insincerity; or, at best, proceed from a merely slavish fear of the consequences of quite neglecting it. O do aspire to something beyond an ordinary reputable profession of it! Here ambition is sanctified. Determine to number yourselves among the happy few; and do not be discouraged by difficulties, nor think it too much for you to attain. It is not humility, but inactivity and despondency, that leads us to think so. God will give us all the grace, and strength and ability, we really desire and ask for.
And let me affectionately recommend you early to seek to be engaged in some sphere of active usefulness. Doing good is the most excellent means of getting good. There is no mistake greater than to suppose that we are sent into the world only to attend, however industriously, to our own personal, or even family interests. Love to our neighbour demands our active exertions in his behalf; and we are all required, more or less, "to go and work in the vineyard." We have all a talent entrusted to us; and what shall we say when our Lord comes, if we have not improved it? Did you never remark in reading the 16th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, how St. Paul, in his salutations, particularizes those who were most zealously engaged in good works?–"Phebe, a servant of the church, and a succourer of many;"–"Priscilla and Aquila, his helpers in Christ;"–"Mary, who bestowed much labor on them;"–"Persis, who labored much in the [Page 245] Lord;"–while he passes over with a slight remembrance, or notes with censure, others, who "minded only their own things, and not the things that are Jesus Christ's." It must have been gratifying to have been thus distinguished by the apostles; but O, how much more so to be approved by Him, who for our good requires these services from us; and to hear Him say at last,–"Well done, good and faithful servant!" We should suffer no day to pass without thinking of, and acting for that day when we shall be "judged according to our works," as the only evidences of our faith; and very encouraging is that kind and considerate expression of our Lord, concerning a poor woman, showing that He is no hard master, and not unreasonable in His requisitions–"She hath done what she could." But how few of us deserve this praise! I am persuaded you would find useful activity one of the best preservatives against the innumerable temptations to which, as youth advances, you will be exposed. How many young persons have blessed God that ever they were led to engage in Sunday school teaching. It profitably occupies that time which, if wasted in frivolity and indulgence, leads to the worst consequences; and in teaching others, a double blessing often descends upon the teacher.
But in engaging in active usefulness, especially when we are required to associate with others, there are evils to be guarded against; and we must be clad with the impenetrable armor of chris- [Page 247] tian simplicity and meekness, in order to avoid them. We may have to encounter those who are officious, unreasonable, monopolizing, ambitious, and overbearing; and if any similar tempers are indulged in ourselves, continual contention must ensue. The only way is to rise superior to those petty jealousies, and inferior motives; to do good for its own sake alone; to persevere in a quiet, forbearing, yielding, line of conduct, which never fails to disappoint and weary out the most troublesome, at last. And even if any should say to us, however unjustly–"Friend, go down lower," our wisdom and happiness is to submit with a good grace, and cheerfully to labor in a humbler sphere. That temper and conduct which is called "spirited," in asserting our rights, and maintaining our consequence, is as unwise and impolitic as it is unchristian-like. Nothing forms so truly great and dignified a character as "the meekness and gentleness of Christ."
But, with regard to our conduct, whether at home or abroad, we cannot mistake if we will but follow the precepts of scripture, in their plain and literal sense. This is too much neglected–strangely neglected, even by those who profess to make the Bible their rule. If we had no other directions whatever for our conduct than those contained in that beautiful chapter, the 12th to the Romans, it would make a heaven of earth, were they but attended to. It is an excellent chapter to read very often, and deeply and daily [Page 248] to study.–It would make a little paradise of any society or family where its spirit was imbibed; and after all, it is at home–in the bosom of our families, in our daily and hourly tempers and conduct, that we have the best opportunity of practising holy obedience to the commandments of Christ. Keeping these commandments, which "are not grievous"–though we are prone to think they are, till we try, implies a continual exercise of self-denial; and if we are conscious that we make no such sacrifices–that we are not in the habit of denying ourselves, it is plain that we are not following Him at all; for those who do must bear some cross. There is indeed something in the very sound of this word self-denial, which alarms our indolence, indulgence, pride, and wilfulness; but it is a false alarm; for these very qualities–indolence, indulgence, pride, and wilfulness, are the greatest enemies to our peace and happiness; and one day's experience is enough to show that, in proportion as they are resisted and mortified, we are comfortable, tranquil, and happy.
May God bless you all, and lead every one of you safely through this dangerous world, to his eternal rest! This is the earnest hope, and will be the frequent prayer of your sincere and affectionate friend,
To the young lady, who, as the eldest of the same orphan family, sustained the responsibility of caring for her sisters and brothers, Miss Taylor writes– [Page 249]
Ongar, June 7, 1823.
* * * Do you remember the remark, that the reason why, in the history of our country, the female reigns have been most prosperous, is, that women, feeling their own insufficiency to hold the reins of government, have been more ready than kings, to depend upon the advice and assistance of wise and able counsellors? Hence it has been said, that in female reigns, we have been governed by men; while kings have often allowed themselves and their kingdom, to be governed by women. Certainly as much wisdom and prudence may be shown in the choice of advisers, as even in determining important affairs ourselves. But above all, my dear friend, your safety and wisdom will be to "ask counsel of the Lord;" and that, not only in a general way, but with a firm and steady dependence on Him, to do what you ask of Him; and this will not be to order things in any particular way that you feel most anxious for; but to overrule them so as He knows to be best for you. "Commit your way unto the Lord, and He will direct your paths;" but I dare say you are already sufficiently acquainted with your own heart to know that it is no easy thing to do this unreservedly. We are so prone secretly to dictate to His Providence, instead of feeling an entire resignation to it. I will venture to add one more particular recommendation; and that is, that in the choice of persons to advise you in regard to your future [Page 250] domestic arrangements, you will select those only who, in addition to worldly prudence, are qualified by the most decided piety to counsel you.
I remember several years ago, a very wise, kind, and good man said to me, that as a general rule (though certainly not without exceptions), it will be found, when we have a choice to make in regard to our affairs, that the decision which is least agreeable to our inclinations, is most conducive to our ultimate welfare. This remark I have never forgotten; and I have often since proved the justness and utility of it, notwithstanding its apparent severity. I quote it to you with less hesitation, because I know that, in any arrangements in which the pleasures and relaxations of young persons are concerned, I am always disposed to lean to the side of indulgence, to a degree which I have often been blamed for. And I tell you that you may not too hastily conclude my opinions in such matters to be stern or rigid. * * *
To the second daughter of this family, she addressed several letters, from among which the following is selected:–
TO MISS E. M * * * * * *.
Ongar, Dec. 19, 1823.
My dear Elizabeth,
It is only the thought of your being too busy to attend to any thing but the business in hand, that has prevented my writing before, to welcome you [Page 251] into the new house;–or, perhaps, if I had followed the dictates of my own feelings, and consulted yours–I should rather have condoled with you on forsaking the old one. I can guess what feelings have been uppermost with you in every interval of bustle; and though not in fact, yet in thought, I have paced with you through the deserted rooms–sympathizing with you in the remembrances they awaken. I am no stranger to local attachments, and I respect them in others, as indications of better feelings. The trees, the walks, the walls, that seem so dear, are chiefly so as they are associated in our minds with those we love, to whom they have been equally familiar. Sorrow in parting with these objects, is, therefore, an amiable regret; and it will be felt in proportion as home –its inhabitants, and its quiet pursuits, have been loved and enjoyed. Cowper has sanctioned such feelings in addressing his mother's picture:–
"Where once we lived, our name is heard no more;
Children not thine had trod our nursery floor," &c.
But, my dear girl, while I sympathize with your sorrow, and more than that, love you for it, yet you know I would not encourage its unrestrained indulgence. The proper and effectual antidote to every undue and morbid indulgence of regret is to be found in the cheerful performance of the daily recurring duties of life; which, by the wise appointment of Providence, prevent brooding melancholy, while they do not tend (like the relief [Page 252] sought in amusements and society) to blunt the edge of genuine feeling. * * *
The youngest brother, then at school, she addressed as follows, three months only before her death:–
Ongar, Jan. 16, 1824.
Ever since you first went to K—, I have felt a wish to write to you, but have deferred it till this time, thinking that letters from your friends might be most acceptable during the vacation, on account of the little disappointment you have undergone in not returning home. I was very much pleased to hear how cheerfully you submitted to the decision of your friends respecting this; the consciousness of which, will, I am sure, afford you much more solid satisfaction, than if you could have prevailed on them by childishly pleading to return.
I have also heard with very great pleasure, the good accounts that have reached your sisters respecting your conduct at school; and hope you will feel a laudable ambition to maintain this good character. We all know that it is an easier thing to set out well while there is the stimulus of novelty to excite us, than steadily to persevere in a good course. Yet I need not remind you, that nothing short of such steady perseverance in well doing, will avail anything to your real advantage; and it is this alone, that truly merits praise. You [Page 253] cannot, therefore, guard too carefully against the first small temptations that may present themselves, of whatever kind: if these are yielded to, others more powerful will quickly follow; and thus, for want of a little timely effort, every good resolution may eventually fail. "He that despiseth small things shall fall by little and little." You are now old enough, dear John, to reflect seriously; and let me advise you to endeavor to gain some acquaintance with your own disposition, in order to correct what may be amiss; and whatever you discover to be the fault to which you are most liable, and the temptations by which you are most easily overcome, there set a double guard, and resist them as your worst enemies.
It has been frequently remarked by those who are engaged in education, that pupils who show most quickness, and make most progress in their studies, are the least worthy of praise in other, and more important respects. Now, dear John, do not let this be your case; never be content with half a character; but be still more ambitious to distinguish yourself for obedience, gentleness, kindness, and a resolute resistance of all that you know to be wrong, than for any mental attainments, remembering that cleverness, unconnected with goodness, proves a curse, rather than a blessing.
On the other hand, allow me to remind you of the great importance of diligently improving your present opportunities for acquiring knowledge. [Page 254] How valuable knowledge is, and how glad you will be of it in future life, you can scarcely at present imagine; and be assured, no time will ever arrive when the business you have now to attend to can better be done, even if it could be done at all. But it has truly been said, that time and opportunities lost in one period of life, can never be recovered in another, because every portion of life is fully occupied with its own proper engagements, so that what is lost through negligence in childhood or youth, is lost irrecoverably. Now, the only way to make real proficiency in learning of any kind, is to acquire a love of it for its own sake; and this may always be done by taking pains. Never be contented with merely getting through your daily tasks in order to escape fines and punishments. No boy of sound sense, and of a strong mind, will need to be governed by such motives: he will find a pleasure in that daily round of business, which, to the sluggish or trifling, is all toil; and those difficulties which discourage and disgust the idle, do but stimulate the diligent to greater efforts.
But, my dear John, let me still more urgently entreat you not to suffer either business or pleasure to divert your mind from what you know is all important. Oh do not indulge that foolish and false idea, that the great concerns of religion may be put off to a future day. Do but try, and you will find that "the fear of the Lord is indeed the beginning of wisdom," and that they who seek him [Page 255] early, enjoy his peculiar favor and blessing on all the pursuits and events of life: and you, bereaved as you are of earthly friends, how much more than you can possibly at present imagine, do you need God to be your Father, and the Guide of your unprotected youth! Study His will then by constantly reading the Scriptures, and seek him for yourself by earnest prayer, and be assured you will not seek in vain. I will not apologize for not writing you an entertaining letter; since it is the desire I feel for your truest good, that induces me to fill it with such plain advice, persuaded that you will not only receive it kindly, but peruse it with attention and serious thought. You have heard how much your sister and I were disappointed in not being able to visit you while we were at Bedford; the bad weather rendered it quite impossible. Believe me, dear John,
Your affectionate Friend.
I find a letter dated the day after the above, and it is almost the last written by my sister, who from this time became incapable of maintaining her usual epistolary intercourse with her friends.
TO MISS M. H-E.
Ongar, January 17, 1824.
* * * I rejoice to hear of your continued prosperity; and am not surprised that the pressure of so important a charge should, at times, depress your spirits; nor that even your [Page 256] happiest seasons should be clouded by the distraction of mind consequent upon it: especially while it is yet new to you. There are doubtless advantages in a life of leisure which, if duly improved, would tend greatly to heighten the happiness of the christian life. But, considering what our depraved nature is, there is a strong probability that they will not be improved. So that, if I might so speak, I believe the chances are greater of making spiritual progress in a life of activity, or even of bustle, than when the mind is left at leisure to prey upon itself, and indulge its morbid propensities.
I thank you, my dear friend, for planning so pleasant a scheme as that of my visiting you at Manchester. I will not say it can never be; yet I cannot indulge the expectation of my health permitting me to undertake so long a journey. I have been very much indisposed, for many weeks past, with a severe attack of rheumatism, which has greatly confined me to the house, and affected my general health. From this, I am thankful to say, I am slowly recovering; but in other respects, I cannot boast of improvement; yet the chastisements with which I am visited are still lighter than my expectations; and how much lighter than my desert! I am endeavoring, but with small success, "to forget the things that are behind, and to press forward." But O, how little can affliction in itself do to produce spiritual affections! I feel this; and that without the grace of [Page 257] God to help me, all these rendings from life and earthly happiness will be in vain.
* * * I have lately taken a final leave of Mrs. — the friend of my happier days: it was but a short interview; but we had time to take a hasty and impressive retrospect of the past;–of life, such as we had each found it; and to compare our early expectations with those circumstances in which we are at present placed.–The moral was obvious–"This is not our rest." * * *