THE RESCUED BRAND
Early in the spring of 1847, I was called to visit an aged man who was very sick. Some time previous, having heard of his illness, I had offered to visit him, but was advised to wait until his own consent should be procured; for he had declined any conversation relative to his eternal prospects. Two or three weeks elapsed, when at his own desire I went to see him at the house of his son, with whom he resided.
Before entering the sick room, a worthy female friend, who was the first-fruits of my ministry in --, after she had attained the age of seventy-three, took me aside, and thus advised me: "The life of Mr. B-- has been spent in dissipation and ungodliness. For many years he has never been inside of a church. He has spent his Sabbaths in ordinary employments. He has been unwilling to hear any thing of religion, and especially of death. Yet he cannot live long. His disease is violent. But he has said that he would be willing to see you. I don't know how he will receive you. Perhaps he will listen; but his son says he is afraid that he will only insult you if you should speak with him." With these precautions she ushered me into the room of the sick man.
It was with an agitation and perplexity, only overpowered by a sense of duty and the promises of a faithful God, and after breathing a silent prayer for "grace to help in this time of need," that the writer entered that chamber.
Mr. B-- was sitting on the side of a low bedstead, apparently in great pain, and in his haggard countenance were visible the marks of disease and death, and a sunken, troubled spirit. His age was sixty-three. His disease dropsy in the chest. He received me with apparent indifference, scarcely raising his eyes from the floor. I spoke to him as kindly as possible, inquiring about his disease, and offering him a little aid in changing his position.
After a long pause, he looked up and said, in a hurried tone, "So you are a minister, eh? How long have you been preaching?"
I replied kindly to his inquiries; and after a few more similar questions and answers, stated the object of my visit, when he replied,
"Sir, the Almighty has been pleased to lay his hand heavily upon me."
That does not sound like infidelity, thought I, and it encouraged my trembling spirit. He had now opened the way, and it only remained for me to follow its windings. A hint upon the unreasonableness of infidelity, brought him out again.
"Oh, sir, I do not see how any man in his senses can be an infidel. Why, that setting sun, and the very grass of the field, prove that there is a God."
One remark led on to another; each pressing closer upon his own situation as an undone sinner hastening to the judgment. He conversed freely, and O, what a joyful surprise and cause of thankfulness it was, instead of meeting the expected insult and hardened infidelity, to find that old man mourning over his sins, and seeking deliverance from impending wrath.
These were some of his expressions: "God has been too lenient with me. I have lived sixty-three years in this world, and this is my first sickness. My life has been a hard one. Prosperity has hardened my heart. Religion has been neglected. Afflictions might have had a better influence. Now I am soon to die. But O, my poor soul, my poor soul; what shall become of it?"
I pointed him to "the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world," and tried to explain and bring the truth home to his heart. He assented to all that was said; but for him there seemed no refuge nigh. His guilty conscience gave him no rest, nor peace.
Before leaving, I engaged in prayer at his bedside. It was a solemn season, and he too appeared to feel it deeply. He asked me to come to see him soon again, and I retired, having learned a new lesson in pastoral experience, and I trust, with an humbled and thankful heart, that had just received new impulses to labor in the Master's work. Often when we fear most, God is most gracious. Heart and flesh may fail, but his word endureth for ever; and I have thought since then, that I could enter more fully into the feelings of Ananias when God sent him to Saul of Tarsus. The thought of meeting the persecutor quelled even his spirit; but, "behold, he prayeth," gave joy and boldness.
At the next interview with Mr. B--, he appeared much in the same spiritual state as before, but his convictions seemed deeper, and his apprehensions more fearful. Yet there was "a glimmering from afar," that was full of promise. He acknowledged the avenging justice of God. He only wondered that God had not crushed him like a moth, years before. But the mercy of God through Jesus appeared to him infinite and adorable. In his cross was his only hope. He wanted to surrender himself to Christ; but doubts and fears mingled like bitter waters in his cup. There was an anxiety to be saved. He saw the way of life; but he must enter in by the strait gate.
This was the state of his soul for some time longer. I was told by a member of the family, that they frequently heard him when alone, and even in the depth of night, in tones of deepest anguish exclaiming, "Oh my poor soul, my poor lost soul;" and then they heard prayers mingling with his groans, prayers for mercy and the salvation bought with blood.
After this I visited him frequently until his death. His conversation, always interesting, and often expressed with great force and beauty, showed him deeply read in the secrets of his own heart, and increasingly desirous of a most thorough and decided change of heart. Fear of self-deception, a sign of spiritual exercise which should not be undervalued, was a most prominent trait. We cannot detail these conversations, but present some specimens which will enable the reader to form a better idea of Mr. B--'s exercises.
In answer to the question, whether his sins of omission or of actual transgression gave him most concern, he replied with emphasis, "My sins of omission."
Surprised, I said, "But according to your own account you have been a very great sinner. Your actual sins have been aggravated and enormous."
"Oh yes, sir," said he; "but then I think, if I had not omitted my duties; I should not have committed those sins."
Referring one day to the darkness of his prospects, in connection with his belief of the gospel way of salvation, and his willingness to accept Christ as his Savior, he said, "But I want proof-something to satisfy me that I am redeemed."
"What kind of proof do you want, Mr. B--?"
"Oh, sir, I want something tangible; or if I may so say, like an audible voice telling me that I shall die happy-that my salvation is sure."
I endeavored to correct this erroneous impression by pointing him to other and better evidences of a gracious state-to his often-professed delight and comfort in prayer-to answers to prayer, already granted him in his deeper convictions of sin, his greater anxiety, and his comfort from God's word. The progressive nature of grace in the heart was also adverted to. On this latter point, the following illustration fixed his attention, and tended to change his views.
"How, Mr. B--, did you learn to read? Was it not by slow degrees; first the alphabet, then joining letters and syllables and words? and even then it was only by constant practice that you at last could read correctly and rapidly. So now you are learning only the A B C of religion. You are a child in God's school, and you cannot expect immediately to
‘read your title clear
To mansions in the skies.' "
And again, "God will give grace according to his children's need. He can give you dying grace in the dying hour; and while suffering affliction, give you grace to endure that. But it seems to me, as if you are impatient to shout victory before the battle is won."
On another occasion, when asked, "Do you read your Bible constantly?" he looked up earnestly and said, "My disease prevents me from reading."
"But, sir, you know that the Bible is God's truth, and the only directory in the way of life."
"That is true, sir," was the striking reply; "but I am building on what I learned from my mother when I was a boy. For many years afterwards I never read my Bible; but passages that I learned then and had forgotten, are coming back to me as if I had learned them yesterday."
Indeed, his acquaintance with Scripture was accurate and large. He quoted readily and with force, and seemed to derive real comfort from its remembered pages. What a beautiful illustration of the power of early associations, and of the importance of sowing the good seed in the bright morning of childhood. Who can estimate the power of a mother's teachings, even after her flesh has long rested in the tomb? Look at this example, where a man, after more than half a century of sin, and on his dying bed, found sweet consolation for his aching heart in the unforgotten tones and instructions of a mother's early love. Perhaps this may encourage to greater parental faithfulness, and even bring some glimmering consolation to many a father or mother now mourning and saddened at the thoughts of some wayward, wandering, prodigal child.
As his illness increased, Mr. B--'s views brightened. His hope was fastened on the Redeemer's cross. Earth was given up without regret, and heavenly visions cheered the prospect.
One afternoon I found him in great bodily distress. "Oh," said he, "it seems as if I could hardly suffer more. Sometimes I feel as if scalding water was poured upon me, and my bones are almost out of joint with pain. Oh, death would be a loving-kindness to me-death would be a loving-kindness. Yet what is all this to what my Savior endured for me? I deserve even more than this."
"Do you feel as if you could wait patiently till the end?" I asked.
"O yes, sir, I desire to be perfectly submissive to God's will. It is all right I know, and as long as he chooses I am willing to suffer."
This spirit of resignation marked all his latter hours. There was one view respecting the Savior, frequently expressed by him, that seemed remarkable. It was this. While he rested all his hopes upon the atonement of Christ, his most adoring contemplations, his most precious views, were drawn from his intercession. "When I try to pray," said he, "I feel ashamed and overwhelmed; but when look upward and see my blessed Intercessor standing at the throne, then I can pray." Indeed, this was the name by which he delighted to honor his Master-"My precious Intercessor."
We only ask here, Is not this a part of the mediatorial work which most Christians fail duly to appreciate? Does it form a principal source of our holy joy and comfort? And if not, why should it longer be so? How, indeed, can we grow in grace, how can we be advancing Christians while forgetful of this high and present office-work of "our great High-priest, who ever liveth to make intercession for us."
At the close of one of the visits mentioned above, an affecting scene occurred. After referring to his great bodily sufferings, and the welcome with which he would meet death, I engaged in prayer with him as usual. He was deeply affected, and immediately upon my closing, he began to pray himself. Such a prayer never fell upon my ears. It was laying hold of the everlasting throne; and he poured out his whole soul there, as if none but God could hear. Every person in the room was melted to tears. It was as impressive and solemn as an earthly scene can be. I thought that I never knew what real wrestling prayer was before this. And the tones of that voice, deep, though feeble and trembling, and uttering such petitions as you might suppose would have become the publican or the penitent thief, can never be forgotten. It was one of those scenes over which angels delight to hover, and rejoice.
After this, we met but once or twice. The sick man's powers of mind and body sunk rapidly. For an hour or two before his death, he seemed lethargic and exhausted. The powers of expression were denied him at the last, but his previous testimony was so protracted, and full, and convincing, that we have every reason to believe that his end was peace, and that now the sufferer is at rest.
A death-bed repentance is generally to be suspected, but there are exceptions, when souls are renewed and taken speedily home to heaven-brands plucked from the burning, to shine as jewels in our great Redeemer's crown.
In this little narrative, the writer has desired to tell of a monument of grace, newly erected in Zion by the great Head of the church. It is presented as an encouragement to faithful pastoral duty, even when fear and trembling seize the heart; as a fine illustration of the power of a mother's training; as a rich record of Christian experience; and as a blessed example of what the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ can accomplish, even in the heart of the chief of sinners. In the humble hope that it may do good in Zion, it is now sent forth on its mission to the reader's heart.