The Amiable Louisa
By Rev. John S. C. Abbott
The circumstances related in the following narrative are of recent occurrence, and the reader may rely upon the strict truth and faithfulness of the description:
Shortly after my settlement in the ministry, I observed in the congregation a young lady whose blooming countenance and cheerful air showed perfect health and high elation of spirits. Her appearance satisfied me at once that she was amiable, and thoughtless. There was no one of my charge whose prospects for long life were more promising than her own, and perhaps no one who looked forward to the future with more pleasing hopes of enjoyment. To her eye the world seemed bright. She often said she wished to enjoy more of it before she became a Christian.
Louisa (for by that name I shall call her) manifested no particular hostility to religion, but wished to live a gay and merry life till just before her death, and then to become pious, and die happy. She was constant in her attendance at church, and while others seemed moved by the exhibition of the Savior’s love, she seemed entirely unaffected. Upon whatever subject I preached, her countenance retained the same marks of indifference and unconcern. The same easy smile played upon her features, whether sin or death, or heaven or hell, was the theme of discourse. One evening I invited a few of the young ladies of my society to meet at my house. She came with her companions. I had sought the interview with them, that I might more directly urge upon them the importance of religion. All in the room were affected—and she, though evidently moved, endeavored to conceal her feelings.
The interest in this great subject manifested by those pre-sent was such, that I informed them that I would meet, in a week from that time, any who wished for personal conversation. The appointed evening arrived, and I was delighted in seeing, with two or three others, Louisa enter my house.
I conversed with each one individually. They generally, with much frankness, expressed their feeling. Most of them expressed much solicitude respecting their eternal interests. Louisa appeared different from all the rest. She was anxious and unable to conceal her anxiety, and yet ashamed to have it known. She had come to converse with me upon the subject of religion, and yet was making an evident effort to appear indifferent. I had long felt interested in Louisa, and was glad of this opportunity to converse with her.
“Louisa,” said I, “I am happy to see you here this evening, and particularly so, as you have come interested in the subject of religion.”
She made no reply.
“Have you been long thinking upon this subject, Louisa?”
“I always thought the subject important, sir, but have not attended to it as I suppose I ought.”
“Do you now feel the subject to be more important than you have previously?”
“I don’t know, sir; I think I want to be a Christian.”
“Do you feel that you are a sinner, Louisa?”
“I know that I am a sinner, for the Bible says so, but I suppose that I do not feel it enough.”
“Can you expect that God will receive you into his favor while you are in such a state of mind? He has made you, and he is now taking care of you, giving you every blessing and every enjoyment you have, and yet you have lived many years with-out any gratitude to him, and continually breaking his commandments, and now do not feel that you are a sinner? What would you think of a child whose kind and affectionate parents had done every thing in their power to make her happy, and who should yet not feel that she had done any thing wrong, though she had been every day disobeying her parents, and had never expressed any gratitude for their kindness? You, Louisa, would abhor such a child. And yet this is the way you have been treating your heavenly Father. And he has heard you say this evening, that you do not feel that you have done wrong, and he sees your heart and knows how unfeeling it is. Now, Louisa, you must be lost, unless you repent of your sins and ask humbly and earnestly for forgiveness. And why will you not? You know that Christ has died to atone for sin, and that God will forgive you, for his Son’s sake, if you put your trust in him.”
To this Louisa made no reply. She did not seem displeased, neither did her feelings appear subdued.
After addressing a few general remarks to my young friends, we kneeled in prayer, and the interview closed. Another meeting was appointed on the same evening of the succeeding week. Louisa again made her appearance with the same young ladies and a few others. She appeared much more deeply impressed. Her coldness and reserve had given place to a frank expression of interest and exhibition of feeling.
“Well, Louisa,” said I, as in turn I commenced conversing with her, “I was almost afraid I should not see you here this evening.”
“I feel, sir,” said she, “that it is time for me to attend to my immortal soul. I have neglected it too long.”
“Do you feel that you are a sinner, Louisa?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“Do you think, Louisa, you have any claim upon God to forgive you?”
“No, sir. It would be just in God to leave me to perish. I think I want to repent, but I cannot. I want to love God, but do not know how I can.”
“Do you remember, Louisa, that Christ has said, ‘Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple?”
“Well, Louisa, now count the cost; are you ready to give up all for Christ? Are you ready to turn from your gay companions, and lay aside your frivolous pleasures, and acknowledge the Savior publicly, and be derided, as perhaps you will be, by your former friends, and live a life of prayer and of effort to do good?”
She hesitated for a moment, and then replied, “I am afraid not.”
“Well, Louisa, the terms of acceptance with God are plain, and there is no altering them. You cannot serve God and Mammon. If you would be a Christian, you must renounce all sin, and with a broken heart surrender yourself entirely to the Savior.”
This evening’s interview closed as before, and a similar appointment was made for the next week. Some of the young ladies present, I had reason to believe, had accepted the terms of salvation. The next week about the same number were present, but Louisa was not with them; a slight cold had detained her. But the week after she again appeared. To my great disappointment I found her interest diminishing. Though not exhibiting that cold reserve which she at first manifested, she seemed far less anxious than at our last interview—the Spirit was grieved away. This was the last time she called to see me; but alas! I was soon called to see her under circumstances which at that time were but little anticipated. These social meetings continued for some time, and many of Louisa’s associates, I have cause to hope, became the disciples of Jesus.
Two or three months passed away, and my various duties so far engrossed my mind that my particular interest in Louisa’s spiritual welfare had given place to other solicitudes; when one day as I was riding out, making parochial visits, one of my parishioners informed me that she was quite unwell, and desired to see me. In a few moments I was in her sick chamber. She had taken a violent cold, and it had settled into a fever. She was lying in her bed, her cheek glowing with the feverish hue, and her lips parched with thirst. She seemed agitated when I entered the room, and the moment I stood by her bedside and inquired how she did, she covered her face with both hands and burst into a flood of tears.
Her sister, who was by her bedside, immediately turned to me and said, “Sir, she is in great distress of mind. Mental agony has kept her awake nearly all night. She has wanted very much to see you, that you might converse with her.”
I was fearful that the agitation of her feelings might seriously injure her health, and did all I consistently could to soothe and quiet her.
“But, sir,” said Louisa, “I am sick, and may die; I know that I am not a Christian, and O if I die in this state of mind, what will become of me? What will become of me?” and she again burst into tears.
What could I say? Every word she said was true. Her eyes were opened to her danger. There was cause for alarm. Sickness was upon her. Delirium might soon ensue; death might be very near; and her soul was unprepared to appear before God. She saw it all; she felt it all. Fever was burning in her veins. But she forgot her pain in view of the terrors of approaching judgment.
I told her that the Lord was merciful and ready to pardon; that he had given his Son to die for sinners; and that he was more ready to forgive than we to ask forgiveness.
“But, sir,” said she, “I have known my duty long, and have not done it. I have been ashamed of my Savior, and grieved away the Spirit; and now I am upon a sick bed, and perhaps must die. O, if I were but a Christian I should be willing to die.”
I told her of the Savior’s love. I pointed to many of God’s precious promises to the penitent. I endeavored to induce her to resign her soul calmly to the Savior. But all was unavailing. Trembling and agitated, she was looking forward to the dark future. The Spirit of the Lord had opened her eyes, and through her own reflections had led her into this state of alarm. I knelt by her bedside and fervently prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide her to the truth, and that the Savior would speak peace to her troubled soul. O could they who are postponing repentance to a sick bed have witnessed the suffering of this once merry girl, they would shudder at the thought of trusting to a dying hour. How poor a time to prepare to meet God, when the mind is enfeebled, when the body is restless or racked with pain, and when mental agitation frustrates the skill of the physician. Yet so it is. One half the world are postponing repentance to a dying bed. And when sickness comes, the very circumstance of being unprepared hurries the miserable victim to the grave.
The next day I called again to see Louisa. Her fever was still raging, and its fires were fanned by mental suffering. Poor girl! thought I, as the first glance of her countenance showed the strong lineaments of despair, I needed not to ask how she felt. Her countenance told her feelings. And I knew that while her mind was in this state, restoration to health was out of the question.
“And can you not, Louisa,” said I, “trust your soul with the Savior who died for you? He has said, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and a heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ ”
“O, sir, I know the Savior is merciful, but somehow or other I cannot go to him, I know not why—O, I am miserable indeed.”
“Do you think, Louisa, that you are penitent for sin? If you are, you are forgiven; for God who gave his Son to die for us, is more ready to pardon than we to ask forgiveness. He is more ready to give good gifts to the penitent than any earthly parent to give bread to his hungry child.”
I then opened the Bible at the 15TH chapter of Luke, and read the parable of the prodigal son. I particularly directed her attention to the 20TH verse: “When he was yet a great way off his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell upon his neck and kissed him.”
“O, sir,” said she, “none of these promises are for me. I find no peace to my troubled spirit. I have long been sinning against God, and now he is summoning me to render up my account, and O! what an account have I to render! The doctor gives me medicine, but I feel that it does no good, for I can think of nothing but my poor soul. Even if I were perfectly well, I could hardly endure the view which God has given me of my sins. If they were forgiven, how happy should I be! but now—O!”—her voice was stopped by a fit of shuddering, which agitated those around her with the fear that she might be dying. Soon, however, her nerves were more quiet, and I kneeled to commend her spirit to the Lord.
As I rode home, her despairing countenance was unceasingly before me. Her lamentations, her mournful groans, were continually crying in my ears. As I kneeled with my family at evening, I bore Louisa upon my heart to the throne of grace. All night I was restlessly upon my pillow dreaming of unavailing efforts at this sick bed.
Another morning came. As I knocked at the door of her dwelling I felt a most painful solicitude as to the answer I might receive.
“How is Louisa this morning?” said I to the person who opened the door.
“She is fast failing, sir, and the doctor thinks she cannot recover. We have just sent for her friends to come and see her before she dies.”
“Is her mind more composed than it has been?”
“O no, sir; she has had a dreadful night. She says that she is lost, and that there is no hope her.”
I went into her chamber. Despair was pictured more deeply than ever upon her flushed and fevered countenance. I was surprised at the strength she still manifested as she tossed from side to side. Death was evidently drawing near. She knew it. She had lived without God, and felt that she was unprepared to stand before him. A few of her young friends were standing by her bedside. She warned them in the most affecting terms to prepare for death while in health. She told them of the mental agony she was then enduring, and of heavier woes which were thickly scattered through that endless career she was about to enter. All her conversation was interspersed with the most heart-rending exclamations of despair. She said she knew that God was ready to forgive the sincerely penitent, but that her sorrow was not sorrow for sin, but dread of its awful penalty.
I had already said all that I could to lead her to the Savior—but no Savior cast his love on this dying bed—no ray of peace cheered the departing soul. Youth and beauty were struggling with death; and as that eye which but a few days before had sparkled with gayety, now gazed on eternity, it was fixed in an expression of despair.
By many a death-bed I had been,
And many a sinner’s parting seen,
But never aught like this.
There was nothing that could be said. The moanings of the sufferer mingled with the prayer, which was almost inarticulately uttered, from the emotions which the scene inspired.
Late in the afternoon I called again. But her reason was gone, and in restless agony she was grappling with death. Her friends were standing around her, but she did not recognize them. Every eye in the room was filled with tears, but poor Louisa saw not, and heeded not their weeping. It was a scene which neither pen nor pencil can portray. At the present moment that chamber of death is as vividly present to my mind as it was when I looked upon it through irrepressible tears. I can now see the disorder of the dying bed—the restless form—the swollen veins—the hectic burning cheek—the eyes rolling wildly around the room—and the weeping friends. Who can describe such a scene? And who can imagine the emotions which one must feel who knew her history, and who knew that this delirium succeeded temporal, and perhaps preceded eternal despair. Louisa could no longer listen to my prayers; she could no longer receive the precious instructions of God’s word. And what could be said to console her friends? Nothing. “Be still, and know that I am God,” was all that could be said. I could only look and listen with reverence, inwardly praying that the sad spectacle might not be lost upon any of us. For some time I lingered around the solemn scene in silence. Not a word was spoken. All knew that death was near. The friends who were most deeply affected struggled hard to restrain the audible expression of grief. In silence I had entered the room, and in silence and sadness I went away.
Early the next morning I called at the door to inquire for Louisa.
“She is dead, sir,” was the reply to my question.
“At what time did she die?”
“About midnight, sir.”
“Was her reason restored before her death?”
“It appeared partially to return a few moments before she breathed her last, but she was almost gone, and we could hardly understand what she said.”
“Did she seem any more peaceful in her mind?”
“Her friends thought, sir, that she did express a willingness to depart, but she was so weak and so far gone that it was impossible for her to express her mind with any clearness.”
This is all that can be said of the eternal prospects of one who “wished to live a gay and merry life till just before death, and then to become pious and die happy.”
“Be wise TODAY—’tis madness to defer.”