« PreviousContinue »
From puse now purer air
All sadness *. The progress of a Christian is not only “ from strength to strength,” but from anxiety to a peaceful serenity, from doubt to confidence, from restlessness to repose. A growing acquaintance with the dispensations of God, and an increasing experience of his goodness, open upon the soul such extensive views of the wisdom and bounty of our Creator; such a lively perception of his astonishing mercy and long-suffering, of his amazing condescension, his ceaseless care, his inexhaustible kindness: that all the uneasy doubts respecting the character of his providence, which a first view of things is apt to excite in reflective minds, are swallowed up and lost. They are not so much explained, as swept away and annihilated. When the heart is fixed on heavenly things, and the affections, weaned from earthly gratifications, rest on the Creator as their proper object and " exceeding great reward,” the soul quickly experiences a tranquillity and composure which “ this world can neither give nor take away;" a cheerful and heavenly serenity, which seems, as it were, a prelibation of future happiness, an earnest of our final and everlasting rest. It is the privilege and reward of Spiritual-mindedness; and although doubtless, to the best, often disturbed by the trials and sufferings of humanity, it is a treasure, of which no experienced Christian can doubt the reality, or which he would consent to relinquish for the most brilliant and envied glare of worldly prosperity:
* Paradise Lost, Lib. iv.
But although the blessedness which belongs to spirituality of mind is of such a character, that it can never be unsuitable or ineffective to whatever circumstances it is applied; although it can impart its joys and consolations to every age, station, and condition of life; affliction, which most needs its presence, seems, by a beautiful arrangement, to be its natural and favoured element. There it brightens to its full lustre, and shines in perfect beauty.
Calista was born of pious parents, and early imbibed, from their lessons and examples, the best principles of Christianity. These gradually matured with her understanding; and in the midst of friendship and domestic happiness, life seemed to be opening upon her with unclouded brightness. Calista was entering on her nineteenth year, when she was suddenly attacked by an alarming epidemic disorder. Its violence soon exhausted itself, and she revived: but the functions of life were fatally disturbed, and the vigour of her constitution annihilated. She lived indeed, during several years; but life was little more than a protracted disease, tending slowly to its consummation. Thus, as it were in an instant, at that period when both our powers and our expectations of enjoyment are generally the most lively, the face of nature was suddenly obscured, and a funeral pall was thrown over the whole of her earthly existence. All the bright visions that play before a young imagination, the day-dreams of hope, that please and occupy, even while they deceive us, were for her at once blotted out. The delighted and delightful activity of youthful gaiety—the animated pleasures of social intercourse---the endearments of conjugal tenderness-she was forbid to share. Surely, under such privations, her spirit quickly sunk into a deep and settled sadness! Far
otherwise. The gay and sprightly vivacity of her early years was succeeded by a gentle serenity, which silently took possession of her bosom. Her eye no longer sparkled with rapture; her countenance was lighted up no more in radiant happiness: yet a gleam of softened joy was shed upon her features, and an expression, dearer even than beauty, of love, resignation, and thankfulness, spoke the sunshine of a pure and angel spirit.
Her sufferings, though great, appeared but little to distress, and scarcely at all to occupy her. Those who saw her only occasionally, did not immediately discover that she was ills and they who were constantly with her, would hardly have perceived it, if her faint voice and feeble step had not too clearly indicated what no impatient or querulous emotion ever betrayed. It was only a few weeks before her death, that, to a friend who inquired after a sick relative, she spoke of the state of his improvement with a sensible delight; and, being at length obliged to say something of her own health, alluded to it slightly, with that unaffected ease, which shewed that she considered it only as a subject of very secondary interest. At length the symptoms of her disorder began to assume a decisive character; her pains increased, and her strength diminished.At the visible approach of death, the feebleness of her nature trembled. Of acute feelings, quickened by disease to an agonizing sensibility, she was unable to anticipate the pangs of dissolution without experiencing a silent terror, which she in vain struggled to conceal. Her friends beheld the conflict, and wept in secret. They had no power to sustain her weakness, nor any counsel to impart, which her own piety and experience had not rendered familiar to her. The struggle continued, and increased till the second
day before her death-and then it ceased for ever! What passed within her bosom at that hour, what blessed consolations descended to her from above, He only knows who sees her soul; but, from that time, anxiety and terror fled away; even her bodily sufferings appeared to be suspended, and a smile of heavenly gladness animated her countenance. She could converse but little, for nature was nearly exhausted; yet she cheered with the accents of piety and affection those who were gathered round her. She remembered every one that was dear to her, and distributed little mementos of her love and gratitude. She listened with tranquil devotion to the sacred offices of the Church, and partook of the memorials of that blessed Sacrifice to which alone she trusted for acceptance. She sunk softly into a gentle slumber, and slept, to awake no more! Her parents followed her to the grave, shed over her the tears of mingled thankfulness and affliction, and marked with a simple stone the turf that lies lightly on her.
There shall the morn her earliest tears bestow;
The seat of religion is the heart. External actions, whether ceremonial or moral, though the natural expression and proper evidence of our real sentiments, are religious only because they are allied to dispositions and feelings that essentially are so. From them they flow; to them they are indebted for their true and distinctive character. So that, although there is not any difficulty in imagining a person deeply spiritual, though by sickness or otherwise he may be incapable of expressing his feelings visibly, it is a mere extravagance and absolute contradiction to speak of one whose life is religious, while his heart is alienated from God. This truth, though it appears obvious, is of such general application and importance, that it can hardly be too frequently repeated. It is this which an eminent writer of the present day * doubtless intended to enforce, when she said, that “Christianity is a religion of principles.” It is this which has induced the most valuable of our practical writers to enter deeply into the examination of the spiritual affections, of the secret and internal operations of religion in the heart.
Nor is the knowledge of these things involved in doubt or mystery. Christianity addresses indeed, the most vital
* Mrs. H. More.