Short Stories

History of a Bible (The) by Rev. John W. Cunningham

 

The History of the Bible

 

by John W. Cunningham.

After remaining a close prisoner for some months in a bookseller's shop, I was liberated, and taken to the country to be a companion to a young gentleman who had lately become major. The moment I entered the parlor where he sat, he rose up and took me in his hands, expressing his surprise at the elegance of my dress, which was scarlet, embroidered with gold. The whole family seemed greatly pleased with my appearance; but they would not permit me to say one word. After their curiosity was satisfied they desired me to sit down upon a chair in the corner of the room. In the evening I was taken up stairs, and confined in the family prison, called by them the library. Several thousand prisoners were under the same sentence, standing in rows around the room; they had their names written upon their foreheads, but none of them were allowed to speak. 

We all remained in this silent, inactive posture for some years. Now and then a stranger was admitted to see us: these generally wondered at our number, beauty, and the order in which we stood; but our young jailor would never allow a person to touch us, or take us from our cell. 

A gentleman came in one morning and spoke in high commendation of some Arabians and Turks who stood at my right side; he said they would afford fine entertainment on a winter evening. Upon this recommendation they were all discharged from prison, and taken down stairs. After they had finished their fund of stories, and had not a word more to say, they were remanded back to prison, and one, who called himself Don Quixotte, was set at liberty. This man, being extremely witty, afforded fine sport for William, (for that was our proprietor's name.) Indeed, for more than a fortnight he kept the whole house in what is called good humor. After Quixotte had concluded his harangues, William chose a "Man of Feeling" for his companion, who wrought upon his passions in a way which pleased him vastly. William now began to put a higher value upon his prisoners, and to use them much more politely. Almost daily he held a little chit-chat with one prisoner or another. Mr. Hume related to him the history of England down to the Revolution, which he interspersed with a number of anecdotes about Germany, France, Italy, and various other kingdoms. Dr. Robertson then described the state of South America when first discovered, and related the horrid barbarities committed by the Spaniards when they stole it from the natives. William wept when he heard of their savage treatment of Montezuma. Rollin next spoke; he related to him the rise and fall of ancient empires; he told him that God was supreme governor among the nations; that he raises up one to great power and splendor, and putteth down another. He told him, what he did not know before, that God had often revealed to some men events which were to happen hundreds of years afterwards, and directed him to converse with me, and I could fully inform him on that subject. William resolved to converse with me at a future period, but having heard some of his relations speak rather disrespectfully of me, he was in no hurry. At length my prison door was unlocked, and I was conducted to his bedroom.

My first salutation struck William. In the beginning, said I, God made the heavens and the earth; and then proceeded to make man, whom he placed in a garden, with permission to eat of every tree that was in it, except one. I then related the history of Adam, the first man: how he was urged and prevailed upon by the devil not to mind God's prohibition, but to eat of the forbidden tree; and how by this abominable act he had plunged himself and posterity into misery. William not relishing this conversation, closed my mouth, desiring me to say no more at that time.

A few days afterwards he allowed me to talk of the wickedness of the old world: how God sent Noah to reprove their iniquity, and to threaten the destruction of the whole world, if they did not repent and turn to the Lord; that the world were deaf to his remonstrances; and that God at last desired Noah to build an ark of wood, such as would contain himself and family; for he was soon to destroy the inhabitants of the earth by a deluge of water. This conversation was rather more relished than the former.

The next opportunity, I gave him a history of the ancient patriarchs, showing the simplicity, integrity, and holiness of their lives, extolling their faith in God, and promptness in obeying all his commandments. William became much more thoughtful than I had seen him upon any former occasion. What I told him he generally related to his friends at table. Their conversation was now more manly and rational; formerly they conversed only about horses, hounds, dress, etc. now about the history of the world, its creation, the remarkable men who had lived in it, the different changes which had taken place in empires, kingdoms, etc.

He was wonderfully taken with the account I gave of that nation whom God had chosen for his own people, viz. the Jews. I told him how wonderfully God had delivered them from captivity in Egypt; how he drowned in the Red Sea an army of Egyptians, with their king at their head, who were pursuing the Jews. But when I told him of the holy law of God, and expatiated a little upon it, he shrugged up his shoulders and said it was too strict for him. Well, William, said I, cursed is every one who continueth not in all things written or commanded in that law. He pushed me aside, ran down stairs, and soon became sick and feverish. His mother begged of him to tell her of his sudden distress. He said I had alarmed him exceedingly; that he found himself a great sinner, and saw no mercy for him in the world to come. His mother came running up stairs, and in the heat of passion locked me into my old cell, where I remained in close confinement for some days. But William could not dispense with my company; accordingly I was sent for. I found him very pale and pensive; however, I faithfully told him, that the imaginations of the thoughts of the heart are only evil, and that continually. He said he lately began to feel that; he had tried to make it better, but could not. Upon this a stranger entered the room, and I was hid at the back of a sofa, because the family were quite ashamed that I should be seen talking with William. The stranger remarked that he had seen him talking with me, assured him that I would do him much more harm than good: that I had occasioned great confusion in the world, by driving many people mad. On this, they all joined in scandalizing my character, and I was again confined to my old cell.

But when my God enables me to fix an arrow in any sinner's heart, the whole universe cannot draw it out. William was always uneasy when I was not with him; consequently he paid me many a stolen visit. I told him one day not to trust in riches, for they often took to themselves wings, and flew from one man to another, as God directed them. Job once possessed houses, lands, sheep, a flourishing family, all of which were taken from him in a few hours; but God never forsook him.

William's friends got him persuaded to take a tour for a few weeks, to remove the gloom which hung upon his mind. He did so; but he returned more dejected than ever. The moment he arrived I was sent for to talk with him. I directed him to behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world: I said there was no other name given under heaven among men, but the name of Jesus, by which they could be saved; that God so loved the world as to send his Son into it, to save it by his death. I then went over the whole history of the Savior, from his birth at Bethlehem to his death on Calvary; describing his resurrection, and pointing out the evidence of it; then led his attention to Bethany, describing the marvelous circumstances attending his ascension to his Father; and testified to him the wonderful effects which followed in the immense increase of conversions to the faith. I then enlarged upon Christ's commission to his apostles, commanding them to publish to every creature under heaven the glad news that Christ had died for the ungodly; had finished redemption, and ascended up on high to receive gifts for men, and to bestow them on all who believed God's testimony concerning him.

God opened the mind of William to perceive the importance and truth of these things. He began to hope in God, through the offering of his Son a sacrifice for sin. I advised him now to follow holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord in heaven, or can continue to see his glory on earth; to have no fellowship with wicked men; to be a faithful steward of whatever God had given him. I told him how Christ rewarded those who overcame all their enemies through faith in his blood, and by believing the word of his testimony. This conversation made him very happy, and he left me, rejoicing in the Lord.

Sometime after, he came with a sorrowful heart, complaining that he did not feel the Lord's presence; that God had forsaken him. I assured him that was impossible; for God expressly says he will never leave nor forsake his people; and that he changes not in his love to them. I warned him to be cautious how he spoke against God, for such language is calling God a liar. I told him likewise, that the church had once preferred a similar complaint against her God; upon which Jehovah protested that it was possible for a mother to forsake her infant child, but impossible for him ever to leave or to forsake his people; for he had pledged his word to the contrary. Wherefore I warned him to be no more faithless, but believing; and by doing so he would glorify God greatly before men: it would tend to make men think more favorably of God, and probably lead some to seek an interest in his favor, who otherwise would not. Upon this he cried out with tears, Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief. I change in my love, but thou changest not. William left me, determined to rejoice evermore, and to pray without ceasing.

At first his friends thought religion had made him less happy than he was before; now they declared they had never seen him in such good spirits, and so truly happy. They began to wish they were like him. William longed for the coming of the Lord, while they trembled at the very thought of it: they rather wished he might never come. This was a great advantage he had over them by the grace and tender mercy of the Lord. He exhorted them to come to the same Savior, and he would receive them also with open arms.

William was afterwards brought into great affliction. I told him God sent it to him for good, to make him more holy, humble, dead to sin and the world, and more fit for heaven. He believed me, and praised God for his attention to him, to send this messenger of affliction to do him good. A person who came in, expressed sorrow at seeing him so pained. William replied, don't sorrow for me; rejoice rather, because God has said that our light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work out for us a far more exceeding and an eternal weight of glory. I am willing to be sick, or to die, or to recover, just as God pleases; whatever pleases him pleases me.

I was never from him during his sickness; he praised God daily that he had ever seen me. He was happy only when he talked with me or about me. He recommended me to all who came near him, declaring that my words created a heaven in his soul. He found me to be the mouth of God to him.

William was completely recovered from his indisposition, by which his knowledge of God, and experience of his faithfulness and love, was much increased. I continued his bosom companion for many years. He talked in the fear of God, and in the comforts of his Holy Spirit, till at length he entered, with triumph, into the eternal joy of his Lord.

*       *       *       *       *

After conducting William to the gates of the New Jerusalem, I was sent for to reside with a young man in the middling ranks of life, who had received a liberal and religious education from his parents, lately removed from this poor world. The effects of their example and counsel were evident in all his conduct. He lived what men call a good moral life, his deportment was very agreeable, and his sobriety was commended by many. He regularly conversed with me twice every day, and prayed in his closet morning and evening. On Sabbath I talked to him from dinner to tea, and from tea to supper.

An old uncle of his perpetually exhorted him to go abroad to amass a fortune. He did not at first relish the advice. One day he consulted me. I bluntly told him to be content with such things as he had; not to hasten to be rich, for he would thereby pierce himself with many sorrows: that numbers were ruined through the deceitfulness of riches. Labor not for the meat that perisheth, said I, but for that which endureth to everlasting life. After this conversation, he reasoned with his uncle against leaving his country and friends merely to make money in a foreign land: he declared that the object was a pitiful one to an immortal creature, who must soon bid an eternal adieu to the affairs of time. However, after standing his ground for some months, he consented to go a voyage to the West Indies.

He set sail from Liverpool, and took me along with him. As there were several passengers in the ship, all of whom were profane sinners, he was ashamed to let me be seen; of course I was hid in a corner of the state-room, completely masked. On the first Sabbath morning, he took a single peep at me before the other passengers awoke. I hastily told him to remember the Sabbath to keep it holy; that God was every where present to witness the works of men. He resolved to abide by my advice, and to keep at as great a distance from those on board as he well could. They asked him to take a hand at cards, but he refused. Pho! said they, we have got one of your superstitious Christians along with us; we shall have nice sport with him. They teased him with his religion the whole day, and poor George could not well bear it. One bold sinner asserted, that before they reached their destination, they would have all his enthusiasm hammered out of him.

George having none to encourage or countenance him, and not possessing firmness sufficient for confessing me before men, resolved to dispense with his religion during the voyage, and to comply with their abandoned customs, while he continued in the ship. Thus he fell before temptation.

One day in the midst of his merriment, he recollected an advice which I had solemnly given him. It was this: When sinners entice thee, consent thou not. Immediately he rushed out of the cabin, threw himself on his bed, and wept bitterly. He cried out, (but not so loud as to be heard,) I have ruined my soul, O what would my worthy mother have said, had she witnessed my conduct for days past. On his return to the cabin, the sadness of his countenance was observed by the company; they laughed heartily and assured him that his reluctance to join them in what they termed sociality, arose from the prejudices of education: that he must endeavor to banish all his fears of futurity, and mind present enjoyment. These and similar observations gradually unhinged the principles of young George, and before reaching their destined port, his checks of conscience were almost gone. What a dreadful state, when man's conscience ceases to be his reprover! Men are often glad when they obtain this deliverance, but the infatuation is as shocking to a pious mind as to see a man in flames rejoicing in the heat which will infallibly consume him.

After the arrival of the ship, we all went ashore; and George was soon fixed in a very advantageous situation for money making. When the first Sabbath arrived, he protested against transacting business on that day, declaring that he had never been accustomed to any thing of that kind. They advised him to labor hard seven days in the week, that he might return sooner to the country from whence he came; and at length prevailed on him to conform to their infidel practices. I told him that for all these things God would bring him into judgment; that he was like the rest of the wicked, who waxed worse and worse; that he did not love Jesus Christ, else he would keep his commandments, notwithstanding all the raillery and reproach to which he was exposed. I warned him that whoever was ashamed to confess Christ before men, of him would he be ashamed in the presence of his Father and the holy angels.

In a few months he became as wicked and abandoned as any on the island. He made a present of me to a poor native, who could read a little English. I frequently conversed with him, but he could not understand what I said. He often desired me to speak to his companions. A few were greatly affected with what I said. They often called upon me. Sometimes they pleasantly said my words made them very happy, they desired to go to that happy world which I commended so highly. They fervently prayed to Jesus to take them to it. An old slave creeped in one day, inquiring if Jesus could do any thing for very bad people. I replied, It is a faithful saying, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, even the chief. He is able to save unto the very uttermost all who come unto God through him. The black man, bathed in tears, exclaimed, Good book! tell me good news! Like the Ethiopian eunuch, he went away rejoicing.

After some years I was sent for in great haste to visit my old proprietor George, who by his intemperance was brought to the gates of death. In his affliction he remembered me. I told him fools make a mock at sin, but sin finds them out. God had been long angry with him every day. He confessed he had been a great sinner. He said that bad company had been his ruin: that by following their example he had destroyed a fine constitution; that in his distress his bottle companions had all forsaken him; they could not bear the thought of death. Had I my days to begin again, said he, I would flee from a swearer or a drunkard, as I would from the plague. He prayed fervently that God would forgive his iniquity for the sake of his Son Jesus Christ. His fever increased, and in a few days he went the way of all the earth.

After this I became the inmate of a respectable family which had long been on the island. The master and mistress were professors of religion, but during their residence in the island they had neglected many of its most important duties.

At length one of their children became ill and died. They came to me for consolation. I gave them to understand, that it was because they had gone astray that they were afflicted, and that their affliction was designed to call them back to duty. They were at length persuaded of their error, and praised God that he had loved them so much as to chastise them. They now strove to serve God with all their hearts. They listened to me when I told them that they should instruct their children in religion on every proper occasion, both when they sat in the house and when they walked by the way. The youth of that family became at length distinguished throughout the island for every virtuous and amiable quality.

But what did more to make religion respected in that house, was the practice of family prayer. I was brought out night and morning, and permitted to speak before all the family, which was seated around the room in a respectful and attentive attitude. I seldom spoke with more effect than on these occasions. I addressed every member of the family in their turn. I commanded the parents to treat their children with mildness, and the children to obey their parents. I told the little ones that Christ took little children in his arms and blessed them; and bade the servants do their duty to their master, and the master to be kind to his servants. And when my instructions were finished, all in the house united in singing a hymn to God; and I believe they sometimes made melody in their hearts. When they had sung, my master would kneel and offer up a humble prayer to God. These exercises caused harmony to prevail throughout a numerous family. I observed also that although the inhabitants of the island did not relish my master's piety, yet he every day obtained more and more of their respect, as his piety increased.

I have lived many years, and have seen all those children grown up (I believe through my instructions) in the fear of the Lord. I was by the bed-side of their parents when the messenger Death came to call them away. I spoke to them of the joys of heaven, and of its inhabitants, who sing praise to the Lamb, and cease not day nor night. They cried, "Lord Jesus, come quickly," and ascended to glory.

I have always been a faithful friend to all who have sought acquaintance with me. I will be faithful to thee, reader! I will show thee the only path that leads through this world to heaven. Follow my instructions, and you will arrive there in safety.