« 上一頁繼續 »
cottages below me opened, and two figures, one old and one young, but neither of them tall, proceed from it. They came out at the little garden-wicket, and then were hidden from me by the trees. These were an aged woman, and a girl of such a height as to enable the elder to lean upon her arm. I had almost forgotten them, when I heard steps gently drawing near along the path under the edge of the coppice, and a young voice repeating some passages of our blessed Saviour's Sermon on the Mount; being from time to time set right by a gentle, feeble old voice.
“ This is pretty, I thought, I must know these people. I accordingly raised myself to a sitting posture, and awaited their approach, being hidden from them by the tall brakes, till they were quite near; and as they came on I heard enough to perceive that the old person was pressing the obligations of the Mosaic law, in its spiritual perfection, as illustrated in our Lord's address to the multitude, on the attention of the young one; and adding her ideas, on the absolute necessity of being conformed to this exalted standard, in order to secure salvation.
“I arose as they came in sight, and saluted them respectfully, at once informing them of what I had overheard, and inviting them to sit down. On their doing this, I immediately resumed the subject which had been under their consideration. I will not repeat all that I said to them on this occasion.
I simply endeavored to explain to the old lady (for she was not a low person by any means) the impossibility of salvation to mere man by the law, trying to make her understand that this discourse of our blessed Lord was probably pronounced to the Jewish multitude, in order to render this impossibility more evident to that self-righteous people; and hence proceeded to shew her that Christ, by his assumption of our nature, his obedience, and death, was the only foundation of the Christian's hope.
The answer was—But oh, Sir! when I look on my own vileness, I can never think myself a fit object of mercy;' and it was impossible either then, or during several other meetings which I had with her, to get her one step beyond this hopeless condition. I found that, like too many others, she had mistaken for humility, that very feeling which constitutes pride in one of its most dangerous forms; and, led I trust by the teachings of God's Spirit, I endeavored to show her that those who despaired because their sins were many, must be very closely related to those who hoped because they were few—that if Christ were not all, he could be nothing—that if salvation were of grace, it could not be of debt, and that those only who had nothing to pay, were freely forgiven at the great reckoning of their Lord. I felt the more regret at this, because she gave many tokens of being one most sincerely, humbly, and conscientiously desirous of conforming herself to the Divine will, and as far as her small means went, of encouraging all that was right and holy in her neighbourhood.
“But if she were not permitted at that time to behold the light which I desired to shew her, her grand-daughter was ready to receive all that was taught her in a manner which was very delightful to me. I felt so deep an interest, indeed, in little Alice, and so anxious was I to improve her, that during the summer months I often walked that way, and either met her and her grandmother in the place where I had first conversed with them, or in their own little dwelling.
“No conscientious minister of the gospel will ever put off till the morrow what can be done on the present day; and I am thankful to say that I was not permitted to break through this good rule, though I did not anticipate the sudden change which took place in the autumn; for one day, having knocked long at the cottage-door, a neighbour came to inform me that old Madam Shirley's brother, who lived beyond London, had come, and had taken away the child, promising to provide for her; and that the old lady had been called away a few days afterwards to be with an old relation who was sick, and dying. When I expressed some wonder that she should part with the child, the neighbour told me that, hard as she felt it to do so, she had thought it right, as she was scarcely able to maintain her on her small annuity.
“ From that time years passed on, and other interests and occupations diverted my attention from this family; though sometimes the figure of the gentle Alice, would pass across the mind, like the memory of a rose of summer, in the dead of winter. Once or twice, at seasons long apart, I called to enquire if the old lady had returned to the cottage, and found it occupied
by a poor peasant, who gave her services in taking care of the goods left therein in compensation for being allowed to occupy a room in it.
“ Years went on, as many as ten or eleven, and it was the season of opening spring, when one Sunday I was called upon to take the duty of the church upon the hill before mentioned, the curate being ill. I took an evening service; and was returning slowly, being somewhat fatigued, taking the shortest way, which was directly across the valley of the small hamlet, and was descending by a narrow path in a wood, when I heard quick steps behind me, and turning round, I saw a young woman in deep mourning following me with speed little short of a run. There was something in the lively interesting expression, and the carriage, above what I could have expected in so retired a place, which conveyed the idea of being familiar to me; I saw she was looking towards me, and stood till she came up.
“Oh! dear, kind Sir!' she said, her eyes, though sparkling with joy, filling at the same time with tears, “how have I longed to see you again, but I did not like to leave my grandmother. Yet when I heard you were to preach at the church above, I could not refrain; I longed to see you; I longed to hear again
voice those glad tidings of joy, which I have seldom heard in terms so full as those with which you first proclaimed them to me. Oh, Sir! those sounds have often rung in my ears, at times when worldly principles would otherwise have wholly misled my heedless steps. It was you who first were blessed in opening to my mind the glorious mystery of redeeming love; and there'—she said, pointing to the opposite bank, was where I heard you first.'
Alice Shirley !' I said, 'is it the little Alice Shirley??' «« Yes, Sir,' she answered, 'I am so happy-oh, so happy!'
" • And where have you been, and what have you been doing since last I saw you?" I asked.
Chiefly at school, Sir;' she answered,' a boarding school, where I learned many things which are of little use to me now; and far, very far, from my poor and aged grandmother ; but when my uncle died he made me rich, and would have had me remain at the school; but I longed to be with my own dear grandmother, who had, I knew, just returned to her cottage in the
valley below. She was at that very moment longing for the little girl who had been the companion of her former days in that place, when in I came, having walked from where the coach puts up with an old neighbour bearing my trunks, as welcome as I was unexpected.'
“. And what did your grandmother say, Alice?' I asked.
“She wept, she sobbed for joy ;' replied the young girl, ‘and held me to her heart, thanking God for happiness she never thought to have enjoyed in this life, for I had taken her by surprise. I would not write to give her any hopes till I was quite sure that I could come, and then I could not wait to write.
“I knew by the letters she used to send to me that her mind was still in the same depressed and doubting state it ever had been, and I greatly feared to give her a false hope, or one, indeed, which might be deferred. But, dear Sir,' she added, “I am now quite rich-oh, so rich! I have fifty pounds a year, more than will supply all our wants, and some to spare. We are rolling in riches.'
"But is this a thing to boast of, Alice?' I said, in a half playful way.
Yes, Sir, it is;' she answered; because this timely aid is so strong, so sweet, so gracious, a token of the Divine love ; so little deserved by us, and yet so precious an earnest of the provision which God has made for us, where worldly riches will be as dross, that I do glory in the gift. Dear Sir, you taught me first to look for the indications of Divine love within the cups and bells of the flowers of the field, and in the golden lustre of the heavenly bodies, in the brightness of the morning, in the dew, and in the rain, and in every part of visible nature; and may I not rejoice in the gold by which I am enabled to supply the necessities of my poor and aged parent?'
“The gladness of the young girl made her speak rapidly, and return my smiling censure with a heartfelt gaiety which caused her eyes to sparkle, and her cheeks to glow; nor did I refuse her request, tired as I was, when she insisted that I should accompany her to her cottage to see her grandmother.
“ I found the old lady much changed, notwithstanding the appearance of added comforts about her, and the delight with which she looked at and listened to her grand-daughter ; but there was upon her countenance the trace of long protracted and unremoved anxiety. Now and then she dropped an expression as if though most grateful for having her child restored to her, yet it was evident that something remained behind, which lay like lead upon her hi art.
“I was obliged to leave my parish for some weeks, immediately after this, and the first news which I heard on my return was that Mrs. Shirley was very ill, and that Alice had sent several times for me.
Late as it was, I felt that I had no time to lose, and set out for the hamlet immediately, though the sun had set. The moon arose, however, before I reached the coppice on the hill, and its silvery light displayed the little valley in the utmost quiet beauty as I descended into it. In the cottage porch I found two women talking in low tones to each other; they were glad to see me, for, as I had feared, there was no time to lose, the venerable grandmother was near her end.
“Shall I go up?' I asked, for every door was open, the night being very hot.
Yes, Sir,' was the answer, “but go up softly, and hark at the door of the chamber till you can catch Alice's eye, ,
be you might startle the old lady.'
“I did so; and ascending the little stairs, I stopped on the landing-place before the open door of a chamber. There I saw the aged woman raised on pillows; her features were already changed and drawn as if by the hand of death, as they were fully exhibited to me by the light of a candle in the interior of the room. Alice was sitting on the bed in such an attitude that I could not see her face; she was speaking, and her voice was soft as the low notes of an organ. She was repeating slowly some of the sweetest and most consoling passages from one of those exquisite chapters of St. John's Gospel, which contain the account of our Lord's last discourse with his disciples, and amongst others I heard this— Let not your heart be troubled ; ye believe in God, believe also in Me.'
"But if I do not believe, my child,' answered the dying woman in an almost unearthly voice, where is my hope? And I cannot believe that I shall be saved, I am so very unworthy, so
“And therefore,' answered Alice, “the better object for