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Most who feel the renewing influence of the truth, producing those moral effects on their taste and dispositions, which agree with the popular statements of the Scriptures, can, on looking back to the earlier periods of their history, recal to their remembrance excitements and tendencies of a religious nature, which, though very transient, were, while they continued, very powerful; giving to some text of Scripture, or some observation in a sermon, or some remark in conversation, a perpetual existence in their memory;, and which must be considered as the first strivings of the Spirit of God within them. These sacred occurrences have served as the rallying point of hope, when the mind has been driven to the remotest distances from the faith of Christ; and notwithstanding the preference which has been given for a season to the pleasures of sin, there has been a secret inclination for those of righteousness; God having implanted a witness in the bosom who has never ceased to prophecy, though it may have been in sackcloth.
Miss Holmes, when about the age of twelve years, heard Mr. Newton make the following remark, when addressing himself to children: “You should treasure up in your memory, while you are young, all the religious knowledge which you can obtain, as it may be of great service to you at some future day, when it may please God to convert you. You will then, when convinced of sin, and awed by the terrors of the world to come, know how to obtain relief; which will keep you from that state of deep perplexity in which many are plunged, who are brought to see their danger while ignorant of the way of salvation."
This very judicious remark struck her with peculiar force, and ever afterwards she listened to the preaching of the Gospel, in anticipation of the benefit which she should derive from it when it should please God to convert her; and from that moment till the great change was produced, she lived in the constant expectation of it. Often, at different and distant periods, would she retire from the fascinations of the world, to pray for a new heart; and though she had urged her request till hope began to wane, yet she was never permitted to despair of obtaining the blessing. It is true, she was less importunate efter she was deprived of the privilege of hearing
Mr. Newton, than when enjoying the benefits of his labours, and her new connexions and habits of pursuits had greatly diminished her anxiety for the one thing needful ; but the early impression of its importance, which she had received, was too deeply imprinted in her heart ever to become obliterated ; and though she often assumed a gay appearance, and wore the smile of animated delight, yet beneath these imposing symptoms of bliss, lay concealed a wounded, and at times an agonized mind. She would sometimes join in the satirical play of wit, on the eccentricities of professors, but always discountenanced any attack on the truth or sanctity of religion; and though in the new sphere in which she was moving, she was becoming more and more conformed to this world, yet she could not disengage herself from the ascendancy which the powers of the world to come had early acquired over her judgment and conscience. She had too much religion to be happy with the gay, and too little, to be happy with the pious; mingling with each, without being able to partake of their felicity, she was doomed to a life of perpetual mortification.
As her character usually received its peculiar tone and complexion from the last society with which she associated, it was perpetually varying from the gay to the grave, and from the grave to the gay; her spirits would occasionally rise to the highest elevation of mirth, and then sink to the lowest state of depression; sometimes open and cheerful in her disposition, at other times reserved and gloomy; alternately devoting herself to the pleasures of the world, and the external devotions of religion, with an eagerness which indicated their resistless attractions over her; nor was it till after she became a new creature in Christ Jesus, that her most intimate friends could ascertain the real cause of such an extraordinary changeableness in her character.
I have no doubt,” she remarked, in a letter to a friend, which was written subsequently to this event,
you were often astonished at that singular variation of manner and disposition, which was so often apparent in me; but if you had known the strange revulsions of feeling to which my poor unhappy mind was alternately exposed, you would have considered it as perfectly
natural. *** I am by nature a child of imitation-apt to catch the spirit and temper of those with whom I am in contact-easily led away by imposing manners-averse to all appearance of singularity-volatile and impetuous in my disposition; yet from the early age of twelve, sQ deeply and strongly impressed with the truth, and necessity, and excellence of personal religion, that I do not think I ever spent a day without giving to it a portion of my most serious attention. Hence, when carried away by the example of others, to scenes of gaiety and folly, my spirits would naturally rise to a high pitch of feeling ; indeed, I was obliged to rise to a high point to enjoy any emotion of delight; but then, when I returned to my graver and more important subject of meditation and reflection, my soul was so abased and confounded—so deeply involved in distress -so terrified and alarmed in prospect of futurity, that I knew not how to endure the anguish I was doomed to suffer. I do not know that I can give a better description of the state of my mind, than by quoting the language of Dr. Watts, with a few slight alterations :
"I was a helpless captive sold,
Under the power of sin ;
Nor keep my conscience clean.
For some kind power to save,
And thus redeem the slave.' “ The charge which is often brought against religion, as tending to abridge our comforts, and induce a melancholy and dejection of spirit, I can repel from experience. Infallible truth declares, that her ways are ways of pleasantness, and her paths are paths of peace; and now I know, and feel it. My mind, which has been tossed about as on the conflicting elements of the natural and spiritual world, has now gained that haven of rest, where
Scarce a wave of trouble rolls
Across my peaceful breast.'”
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“It was when her Mamma was sitting with her on a Sabbath afternoon, after hearing a sermon at the church, which she very much disliked, that she made the first direct allusion to the recent exercise of her mind."
L" In the first stages of religion, fear is apt to predominate over every other feeling and passion of the mind, because in that state, the sinner often discovers his danger, without be. coming acquainted with his DELIVERER: he feels his chains, without seeing the Angel of the covenant, by whom they are to be broken. But after a time, he makes such large and bright discoveries of the goodness and love of God, that by degrees his bonds fall from him, and he exchanges trembling for hope, and disquietude for peace and joy. There is indeed, a salutary fear of offending the God he loves, which accompanies him through every stage of life. But this is as distinct from the fear by which he was once disquieted, as the terror of the slave is from the tender anxiety of the child." Cunningham.
The impressions of truth on the human heart, when they are produced by a supernatural power, are deep and permanent; but when they claim no higher origin than the agency of man, they soon pass away like the morning cloud and early dew, and leave no trace of their existence behind. They may, during their continuance, keep the passions in a state of perpetual excitement, and induce an order of thought and reflection, and anticipation, in strict accordance with the general tenor of the Scriptures; but they effect no permanent change in the character. As they bear a resemblance when they are first received, and at successive periods, to the operations of the Spirit of the living God, they are often mistaken for them, and a profession of religion is made under their influence, which is abandoned as soon as they subside. Hence the annals of the Christian Church record the names of
who have outlived their avowed attachment to the faith of Christ; and the most awful passages of the sacred volume are denounced against those who once pleaded its promises, with the hope of obtaining glory, honour. immortality, and eternal life.