Way-Side Hearers (The)
The Way-Side Hearers
Three girls were sitting together at public worship one Sunday afternoon, listening to a very solemn and impressive sermon, in which the minister spoke much of the sufferings that Christ endured in the garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross for our salvation. They were Sunday scholars, so that the minister knew them all by name; and, as they sat near the pulpit, his eyes rested upon them occasionally; perhaps with a hope that, through God's blessing upon his words, their hearts might be touched with a sense of the Redeemer's exceeding love in thus dying for us, and of the gratitude and obedience which we owe to him in return; for this is the design and end of all the sermons that we hear. If they do not awaken in us sorrow for our sins, a feeling of thankfulness for God's pardoning mercy through Christ, and an earnest desire to live to his glory, it were better for us that we had never heard the glad tidings of the gospel, since for all these slighted invitations and neglected warnings we must hereafter give account to God.
When service was over, the girls arose, and slowly left the church with the rest of the congregation. There was nothing unbecoming in their behavior as they passed along the aisle; not a word nor a look was amiss. One of them, Mary Thornton, seemed more serious than usual; and turned to say goodbye when they reached the porch; for her home lay in a different direction from that of her companions.
"Oh! stop a little while," said Fanny Johnson, as they stood in the churchyard; "there is no hurry this fine afternoon."
"Grandmother will want her tea," answered Mary; "and I promised to get home as soon as I could."
"Grandmother can wait, I suppose," returned Fanny, laughing; "and, if she is cross, you may tell her what a long sermon we have had. I declare I thought it was never coming to an end."
"It was a very good sermon," said Mary, seriously.
"Well, we do not want to talk about the sermon," interrupted Fanny's sister, Elizabeth Johnson; "and if you are in such a hurry," for Mary was walking on, "we can go with you down the lane. We need not go home any sooner than we like."
Mary would rather have walked down the green lane alone, thinking over what she had heard; but she had not courage to say so. And she persuaded herself that it would do just as well by-and-by. She would find the text in her Bible after tea, and read over the chapter, and that would bring to her mind many things that the minister had said. So they went talking and laughing along, and Mary heard all that Fanny and Elizabeth had to tell about a fair that was to be held in a neighboring village next day, and felt strongly inclined to go, if she could only get her grandmother's leave. She also listened to a description of the smart new bonnets which their mother had promised them before the following Sunday; and she began to reckon how long it was since hers was new, and to wonder how much longer her grandmother expected it to last; so that, with the fair and the new bonnets to think of, it was not surprising that the sermon should go entirely out of her head, and all the good desires that it had awakened in her mind.
After tea, instead of opening the Bible and looking out the text, she stood for an hour or more idly leaning against the door-post, sullen and discontented, because her careful grandmother would not hear a word about her going to the fair; and when bed-time came, instead of ending the Sabbath with prayer and holy thoughts, she just uttered a few sentences with her lips, while her heart was far from God, and then lay down to rest, as careless about her everlasting welfare as if she had never heard of Christ and all that he endured to save her soul from endless woe.
Thus it is that the good seed of the word is often taken away from the heart, through sinful companions, through vain and idle talk, through our own want of watchfulness and prayer. How many young persons have been impressed while listening to a sermon, have felt a rising desire to become religious, have made good resolutions before leaving the house of God; yet, by the time that they entered again their own homes, have been cold and indifferent, and worldly-minded as ever. How sad it is, when public worship is over, to see young people clustering in giddy groups outside, with ill-timed merriment and light discourse, doing their best to help the work of Satan, and to banish every recollection of God, of the never-dying soul, of preparation for the life to come! To keep up an appearance of seriousness and devotion in the presence of God's ministers and people, and immediately to throw it aside amongst our own companions and friends, must be a fearful mockery of Him who "looketh upon the heart." And oh! it is a solemn and an awful thing to trifle with the convictions of the Holy Spirit. Every good thought and every holy desire is from Him. He speaks to us in the whisperings of conscience and the preaching of his word. Reader, beware lest the message of mercy and salvation should be sent in vain to you.