William, who had said nothing as yet, but had been walking backwards and forwards, with his head down, and his hands in his pockets, turned suddenly round to Mary, and said, "I have been thinking we can soon know if your knife is in the nest. We only want a polemoscope for that. Hurrah! long live optics!"
"A lemoscope!" said Lucy, "What is that? Is it a long hook?"
William.—(Smiling rather contemptuously.) "Poor sister! What ignorance!"
Father—"William, speak kindly—tell your sister what this instrument is, and what you want to do with it."
William.—(Scientifically.)—"In war, when a besieged garrison wishes to know all the movements of the enemy, without being seen, they erect behind the walls, or the ramparts, a mirror, placed at the end of a long pole, and inclining towards the country. You understand, then, that everything that takes place outside, is reflected in the mirror, and can be seen from within, or in another mirror placed at the bottom of the pole, and sloping inwards. This, Lucy, is what is called a polemoscope—that is to say, an instrument for observations in war."
"Thank you, William," said Lucy, "but what are you going to do with it?"
William.—"The thing is quite plain. I am going to fasten a small mirror on a light pitchfork, inclining it downwards. This pitchfork I shall fasten firmly to pole; then some one will climb, dear papa, without any danger, as far as the strong branches reach; from thence he can draw up the pole and its mirror, with a long string, and by raising the mirror above the nest, he will enable us to see, with the aid of your telescope, all that the nest contains. This is my plan, and I think it is not so bad!"
Father.—(Smiling.)—"Dear William. It is a great pity, however, that you are so blind. There are two things you have not considered. One is, that the branches which cover the nest, are very thick and tufted. Therefore, your mirror, even if it reached their summit, would only reflect the leaves, and consequently neither the nest nor the knife; and the other thing which you do not observe, is this, that the magpies, by an admirable instinct, which God has given them, build their nests, not like a basin, as you supposed, but in the form of a ball; so that the nest is covered with a vaulted roof, formed of sticks closely interwoven, which shelters the bird and its brood from bad weather, and above all, from the cruel claw of the kite or hawk."
"I am much obliged to you, dear papa," said William. "What a pity," he added, with a sigh; "for my plan would otherwise have been infallible."
"Let us seek a better one," said their father. "Mary, go and see if you have not left your knife in the fruit-room. Perhaps it was yesterday, that you peeled the apple for Sophy."
"I will do so," said Mary, and she went into the house for the key of the fruit-room.
She soon returned, exclaiming, "The key is not in its place, and I put it there this morning."
"Miss Mary is mistaken," said Elizabeth, coming out of the kitchen; "I see the key in the door."
"Papa," said Mary, "I recollect, when I put the key in the cupboard, this very morning, Sophy looked at it, and said, 'It is certainly the prettiest key on the bunch.'"
"Let us go to the fruit-room," said the father, directing his steps thither. "I fear this will prove a sad affair."
"What is this, too," cried Mary, examining the shelves, "the big key of the cellar here Where did it come from? And this key covered with cheese, from one end to the other!"
"Let us go to the cellar!" said the father. "I believe we shall find out more there than we can here."
They opened the door, and found the brilliant silver knife, not in the magpie's nest, but sticking in a cheese, from which a large portion appeared to have been detached.
The children were amazed, and their Father much grieved.
"Here is your knife, Mary," said John, who first saw it. "Certainly, there is no need of a looking-glass to find it."
"You must not joke, my children," said the Father; "this is a very sad business. I am thankful it has taken place in the absence of your dear Mother, and I forbid you writing her anything about it. This must concern me, and me alone."
William.—(Indignantly.)—"It amounts to a theft, a falsehood!"
Lucy.—"But who has done it, William? Did not Mary leave her knife here?"
William.—"Who saw the Magpie carrying it off in his beak?"
Mary.—(To Lucy.)—"Do you not understand that it was poor Elizabeth, who came here with my knife, which she took off the table where I left it, and who, after having cut a piece of cheese with it, went to the fruit-room, no doubt to steal some apples also."
John.—(Angrily.)—"Papa, Elizabeth has acted deceitfully— will you allow her to remain with you? One of the Psalms, the 101st, I think, says, 'He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house.'"
The Father.—(Gravely.) "It is said also in Holy Scriptures, my son, that 'mercy rejoiceth against judgment,' and perhaps, John, if any of us, had been brought up like poor Elizabeth, we might have done even worse than this."
"I am quite vexed," said Mary, "Oh! why did I not take more care of that wretched knife!"
William.—"But, Mary, it was not your knife left upon the table, which tempted her to take two keys secretly out of the cupboard, and which made them the instruments of this theft. For Papa," continued he, "it is a theft, and a shameful one too! These stolen keys are no small matter!"
The Father.—(Calmly.)—"I know it my children, and it grieves my heart, that one of my servants, who daily hears the word of God read and explained, should so far have forgotten the fear of the Lord! This is what saddens me, and wounds me deeply."
Lucy.—"Elizabeth has not long been our cook, and probably she never heard the word of God before she came here. Poor girl I she is perhaps very unhappy now,—and I am sure, she will repent and turn to God."
The Father.-"That is right, my dear child, I rejoice to hear you plead the cause of the unhappy, and even of the guilty, for as I said before, 'mercy rejoiceth against judgment.'"
"I was therefore wrong," said John, "and I confess it ... for certainly I scarcely pitied her.... I did wrong I and now I think as Lucy does."
"And I also," said William, "'Clemency governs courage,' says a Grecian historian, and ..."
The Father.—(Very seriously.)—"But, my dear William, what have the pagans of old and their morals to do here? My son, you know it is the word of God which rules our conduct, and which commands us to suffer and to forgive."
Lucy.—"Papa, will you allow me to repeat a passage, which I learnt by heart last Sunday?"
The Father.—"Repeat it, Lucy, and may God bless it to us all!"
Lucy.—"'Execute true judgment, and show mercy and compassion every man to his brother.' It is in the seventh chapter of Zechariah."
"I too, was wrong then," said William, "very wrong! for it is the wisdom of God alone, that enlightens us."
"True, my son," said his Father, "may God always remind you of this. I am going to speak to Elizabeth," he added, "as for you, my children, do not say a word about it, and above all, bless the Lord, for having made known to you his grace and holy law. Pray to him together, that my words may have their due effect upon the mind of this poor guilty creature."
The Father went out to look for Elizabeth, and the children repaired to William's room, who, having knelt down with them, prayed to the Lord to take pity upon her, and to touch her heart, and he ended the prayer in the following words:—"In thy great wisdom, O Most Gracious God, and in thine infinite compassion, through Jesus Christ, grant unto each of us true repentance, and a sincere change of heart, and may this affliction be turned to the glory of our Saviour Jesus."
The children then returned to their several occupations, and not one of them ever thought of judging Elizabeth, or even speaking harshly of her.
We may add, that the exhortation of her charitable master, produced sincere penitence in Elizabeth, and that the poor girl was not sent out of the house; for "mercy pleaded against judgment."
It is thus that God deals with us! Oh! which of us can tell how often he has received pardon from the Lord!
The Modern Dorcas
"The night cometh when no man can work."—JOHN, ix.
Oh! my sister! my sister! What a lesson may we learn from the death of our dear Amelia! She was but sixteen years old like myself, and only two years older than you are, but how much had she done for the Lord. I saw and heard her, when Jesus came to call her to himself; I was in the churchyard when they placed her body in the grave! Oh! what a solemn warning! and now I feel humbled before God, and I pray Him to pour into my heart the same Spirit which He bestowed so abundantly upon our friend, as well as that lively faith, which although Amelia 'is dead, yet speaketh,' as it is said of Abel, and which shall speak through her for many years to come!
I wrote to you less than a fortnight ago, that Amelia was unwell; but how little I then thought it was her last illness! Oh! how uncertain our life is, dear Esther, and how much wiser we should be if we would only believe so!
On the seventh day of her illness, her mother said to me, "Anna, your friend is going to leave us; the danger of her disorder increases every hour, and we must give her up to God!"
I wept much and bitterly, and could not at first believe it; but when I was alone with Amelia, the next day, she said to me, with that calm peacefulness which never left her, "I am going away from this world, Anna; yes, dear Anna, I am going to depart; I feel it, and ... I am preparing myself for it!"
I tried to turn away her thoughts from this subject; I told her that she was mistaken, and that God would certainly restore her; but she stopped me with firmness of manner, and said, "Do you envy my happiness, Anna? Do you wish to prevent me from going to my Heavenly home, to my Saviour, unto his light and glory?" The entrance of her father and the Doctor prevented my reply, and I left the room in tears.
"You must not cry," said her mother to me. "We must pray, and above all, seek profit from the occasion. The time is short! Her end is at hand! But," added this servant of Christ, "that end is the beginning of a life which shall have no end!"
Three more days passed away. On the fourth, we had some faint hope, but the following day, all had vanished, and towards evening, Amelia declared, that the Lord was about to take her.
"Yes, my dear parents, my excellent father and mother," she said, with a beam of heavenly joy on her countenance, "I am about to leave you; but I do not leave my God, for I am going to see Him, 'face to face.'"
"My dear parents," she continued, affectionately, "rejoice at my departure; I am going to Heaven a little before you, it is true, but it is only before you, and you know it; and the Apostle says, that, 'to be with Christ is far better.'"
I was present, Esther, and was crying.
"Why do you cry, Anna?" she said, "Are you sorry to see me go to my Father's house?"
"But, Amelia, I lose you; we all lose you; and ..."
"I do not like to hear you say that, Anna; do not repeat it, and do not think of it. Our Saviour says that, 'He who believes on Him shall not see death;' and I am certain, that my soul is about to join those of His saints who have already departed this life, for His grace has also justified me."
"Ah!" said her aunt, who had not left her bedside for two days, "you have always done the will of God, dear Amelia; you are therefore sure of going to Him."
"Dear aunt," she replied, with sorrow on her countenance, "I assure you that you grieve me. I have been during the whole of my life, but a poor sinner, and have by no means done what you say; but.... God Himself has pardoned me, and it is only, my dear aunt, because the blood of Jesus has washed away my sins, that I shall see God."
It was thus, my sister, that Amelia spoke at intervals almost the whole night. Her voice at length became weaker; and towards morning, after a slight drowsiness, she said to her father, "Papa, embrace your child once more." She then turned to her mother, and said, "My dear mamma, embrace me also, and ... may Jesus comfort you all!"
A few minutes after, our darling friend fell gradually asleep, and her last breath died away like the expiring flame of a candle. She experienced nothing of the agony of death. Truly, dear Esther, Amelia knew not what death was!
But oh! how I have myself suffered! and how difficult it is to tear one's self thus forever here below, from such a friend as she was!
Nevertheless, my sister, God knows we have not dared to murmur. I wish you had heard the prayer that Amelia's father offered up, when his daughter had ceased to breathe! Oh! it was the spirit of consolation itself which spoke! And since that solemn hour, what piety, what strength and peace of mind, Amelia's mother his displayed! I am sure you would have said, that the Lord was present, and that He was telling us with His own voice: "Amelia triumphs—she is in My glory!"
I wished to be in the churchyard when our friend, or rather, when her body of dust, was committed to the grave. There were many persons present, but especially poor people; some old men, and several children, came to take their last leave of her.
A grey-headed and feeble old man was standing near the grave, leaning with his two hands on a staff, and with his head depressed. He wept aloud, when the clergyman mentioned Amelia's name, as he prayed, and gave thanks to God. He then stooped down, and taking a little earth in his hand, said, as he scattered it over the coffin: "Sleep, sweet messenger of consolation! Sleep, until He whom thy lips first proclaimed to me, calls thee to arise!" And with this, he burst into tears, as they filled the grave.
When all was finished, and the funeral procession had departed, the poor people who were present approached the grave, sobbing, and repeating, "Sweet messenger of goodness! Our kind friend, our true mother!" And two or three of the children placed upon her grave nosegays of box and white flowers.
"Alas," said a young girl, "she will never hear me read the Bible again, nor instruct me how to live!"
Another cried loudly, "Who will now come to visit my sick mother, and read the Bible to her, and bring her comfort and assistance."
And there was a father, a poor workman, with two little boys, who, holding his children by the hand, came and placed himself near the spot where the head of Amelia was laid, saying to them, "Here, my poor children, under this sod, rests that sweet countenance which used to smile upon you, as if she had been your mother! Her lips have often told you, that you were not orphans, and that God was better to you than a parent.... Well, my dear children, let us remember what she used to say: 'God has not forgotten us, and He will sustain us!'"
I was with my brother, who himself wept with all his heart, to see the sincere grief of these poor people. He whispered to me, "I have a great mind to speak to them, and ask them what Amelia used to do for them." I had the same wish; so we approached a group which surrounded the grave, and asked them when they had become acquainted with Amelia.
"For my part," answered the old man, already spoken of, "this messenger of peace visited me two years ago, for the first time. I lived near a family to whom she had brought some worsted stockings, for winter was just setting in, and so my neighbor mentioned me to her, as a poor infirm old man. She desired to see me, and had she been my own daughter, she could never have shown me more respect and kindness! She procured me a warm quilt that same evening, and on the morrow, towards the middle of the day, she came with her excellent mother to pay me a long visit.
"You must know, sir," continued the old man, to my brother, "I was then very ignorant, or rather my heart was hard and proud towards God. I had no Bible, and did not care about one. Well, this dear young lady not only brought me one, with her own hands, but came to read and explain it to me, with great patience, at least three times a week, during the first twelve months.
"God took pity on me," added the old man, in a low voice, "and last year I began better to understand the full pardon which is in Christ Jesus, and was even able to pray with Miss Amelia.
"She used sometimes to call me, 'My old father,' but it was I who ought to have called her the mother, the true mother of my soul.
"Just one month ago, she came to me for the last time; she gave me with a sweet smile, these worsted gloves, which she had knitted herself, and then recommended me with much respect and kindness to thank our Lord, who sent them me! This was the last of that sweet lady's charities to me!"...
Upon this, the old man turned away weeping, and as he walked slowly on, he frequently looked back upon the newly-covered grave.
"The same thing happened to me," said the workman. "The mother of these two little children died ten months ago; we were in want of everything, then, and I knew not even how to dress these children. Believe me, Miss," he added, addressing me with feeling, "when the mother is gone, all is gone!... but our gracious God did not forsake us, for He sent us his angel; I say His angel, although she is at present much more than an angel!... Is she not indeed a child of God in heaven? ... but, in short, she clothed these two little ones, and I am sure she did not spare herself in working for them; the clothes they now wear were made chiefly by that dear young lady's hands. Then she used to come and visit us; she often made my two children go to her house, and always gave them good advice. She also sent them to school, and although it was certainly her mother who paid for them, yet it was Miss Amelia who taught them to read at home, and who, almost every Sunday, made them repeat their Bible lessons.
"Ah, Miss," he continued, "all that that dear young lady did for us, for our souls as well as for our bodies, will only be known in heaven, and at the last day. For my part, and I say it here over her grave, and in the presence of God, I am certain, that when the Lord Jesus shall raise us all up again, the works of Miss Amelia will follow her, and we shall then see that while upon earth she served God with all her heart.
"No," he added, as he wiped away the tears from his children's eyes, "I would not wish her to return from the glory which she now enjoys, at the same time I cannot conceal from you, that my heart mourns for her, and that I know we have lost our consolation, our benefactress, our faithful friend!"
"Who has not lost one?" exclaimed a poor woman, at whose side stood the little girls who had planted the flowers; "I know very well that Miss Amelia's mother will take her place, she is so good and kind! but it was no little joy to receive a visit from that sweet and amiable young lady, so good, so pious, and so full of joy. Oh! what should I have done with my husband, so long confined to his bed, if this messenger of goodness had not procured work for me, and recommended me to the ladies who now employ me. And then again, what were we, until Miss Amelia spoke to us? How much she had to put up with when I refused to read the Holy Scriptures! and yet she was never weary of me. Oh! no; she came day after day, to exhort and to teach me, and blessed be God, we begin now to know something of what the Saviour has done for us.
"And," added she, drawing the little girl towards her, "I shall go on with my dear children, reading and learning that word of God, which was Miss Amelia's greatest joy.
"Come, come, my friends," she said, in a persuasive tone, "we must also die, and be put each in his turn, under this ground; but as our benefactress is not dead ... (no, she is not dead, for the Lord has said it!)—so also shall not we die, if we follow in her steps."
The poor woman then wished us good day, and moved away with her children. We all walked on together, still speaking of Amelia. My brother took the names and addresses of many of the poor people, with whom he had just been conversing, and spoke a few words to them of comfort and encouragement.
As soon as we were alone, he showed me the list of names, at the head of which was that of the old man, and he said, "Here is a blessed inheritance which Amelia has left us. She has done as Dorcas did: her hands have clothed the poor, and her lips have spoken comfort to them. Dear Anna, Amelia was not older than we are; let us remember this, for we know not when the Lord shall call us."
How wise and pious this dear brother is! We have already been able to pay together, two of Amelia's visits. Her mother, to whom we related all we had heard, gave us further particulars of what the pious and indefatigable Amelia used to do. Ah Esther, her religion was not mere "lip-service." The Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ assisted her, and she might have said with truth, I show "my faith by my works."
Let us take courage, then, my dear and kind sister! we lament our loss in Amelia's death, but on her own account I lament her not. I can only contemplate her in the presence of God, and of her Saviour, and I rejoice to think of her delight when she entered the region of heaven. How beautiful it must be, Esther, to behold the glory of that heaven! to hear the voices of saints and angels, and to know that God loves us, and will make us happy forever.
Think, sister, of the meaning of—forever!
Amelia's father, whom I saw a few hours ago with her excellent and pious mother, said to me, in speaking of their darling child, "For my own joy and comfort I should have wished to have kept her with us; but, my dear Anna, even if I could have done so, what would have been all our happiness, compared with that which she now possesses in the presence of her God."
But do not suppose, my sister, that Amelia, with all her piety, was less prudent with regard to the things of this world, than faithful regarding those of heaven. Her mother has shown me her books, and her different arrangements, all of which indicate that discretion spoken of in Scripture, carried out in the most minute particulars.
First, as respects order and cleanliness in everything belonging to her: it would be impossible to imagine a more proper arrangement than the one she made of each article, both in her wardrobe, her writing- table, her work-box, and her account-book.
She had not much money to devote to her works of charity, but her industry made up for her limited means; for instance, in opening the Bible which she generally made use of, I found in it, four or five pages written with a great deal of care; and her journal informed her mother, who read it, of the reason of this circumstance. It runs thus:
"As old Margaret has but one Bible, some of the leaves of which have been lost, I have given her mine, which is quite complete, and have taken hers, adding to it some sheets of paper, upon which I have written the passages which were deficient. Thus I have saved the expense of a new Bible; and it is the same thing to me."
Amelia's diary is very remarkable; her mother has allowed me to read many portions of it, and to copy out what relates to her usual manner of employing each day. I send it to you, dear Esther, and you will find, as I have done, that the Spirit of God always teaches those who trust in Him, how precious time is here below. The following is what our dear friend wrote upon this subject.
"January 1st, 1844—Nearly eighteen centuries, and a half have passed away, since our Saviour took upon himself the form of human flesh for our salvation. Those years seemed long as they succeeded each other, but now that they are gone, they appear as nothing.
"Families, and nations, and the mighty generations of mankind, which, in times gone by, peopled the earth, have all passed away. Nothing remains of them here below!
"But such is not the case in heaven,—I should rather say,—in eternity. There, all these nations still exist, no man can be absent, but must appear before the Sovereign Judge, to answer for the use which he has made of his time.
"How short that time is! Where are the years that David lived, and where are those which Methuselah passed in this world? their whole duration seems, at this distance, in the words of St. James, 'Even as a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.'
"It will therefore be the same with me. I know not how long I shall live here below, perhaps I shall see but a portion of this year, and shall enter into glory before it is concluded; or perhaps I shall yet see many more years. This the Lord knows, and I ought not to consider that such knowledge would be of any importance to me, since that which constitutes my life, is not its length or duration, but the use which is made of it.
"It is to Jesus, then, that all my life must be devoted, without him I can do nothing. 'My life is hid with Christ in God.' He has 'bought me with a price,' I ought, therefore, 'to glorify God in my body, and in my spirit, which are God's.'
"Truly to live is to know, that my thoughts and actions are all directed to the glory of Jesus, whether upon earth by faith and hope, or in heaven by the sight and by the glory of God.
"But here below, I have only time at my disposal; that is to say, days composed of hours or rather, I have in reality but a single day to make use of. Yesterday is no longer mine, and to-morrow, where is it? I have it not yet, and perhaps shall never see it.
"Lo my earthly life is 'to-day.' What must I do then with 'to-day,' that God may be honored and glorified in it? for after all, if I have the happiness of counting the year 1844, as dating from a Christian era, and not from that of a false prophet with the Mahomedans, nor yet of a false God, with the poor Indians, it must be to Jesus Christ, from whose birth I count my years, that those years should be dedicated.
"Here I am, therefore, in the presence of my Saviour, of whom I implore the Spirit of wisdom and prudence to guide me in the employment of this my day, since in reality I have but one, and that is, 'To-day.'
"But I cannot do better than walk in the footsteps of my Redeemer, and in his conduct and conversation whilst on earth, I observe these three things: Temperance, piety, and charity, to all of which he wholly devoted himself, and has thus left me an example to follow.
"I will therefore imitate him first in his temperance. He rose early in the morning—he eat frugally—he worked diligently—he wearied himself in well-doing: in a word, he exerted the whole strength of his mind and body in the cause of truth, but never in the cause of evil.
"These, therefore, must be settled rules, moderate sleep, moderate repasts, moderate care and attention to the body; active employment, always to a useful purpose, profitable to my neighbor, and never interfering with my duties at home.
"In the next place, I must imitate Jesus in His piety. His Father's will was as His daily food. What a thought! To live wholly to God, and as He himself teaches us in His Holy Word. To do this, I must know His Word; I must study it, meditate upon it, and learn it by heart. Besides reading, I must pray, for prayer is the life both of my heart and soul with God. What glory is thus permitted to me, a poor sinner, that I ought, and that I can, live to Him, love Him, and devote myself to Him! It is heaven already begun on earth; for in heaven my soul will enjoy no other happiness than that of knowing God, and living to His glory. This thought fills me with joy, and I am encouraged by it to consecrate myself wholly to Him, as did my Lord and Saviour.
"Lastly, I will, by the grace of God, imitate Jesus in his charity. How many souls there are about me to love, to comfort, to enlighten and to assist. But I can only do it in the measure which God himself has assigned to me. At my age, and but a girl, subject to the wishes of my parents, I ought only to desire to do good in proportion to the means with which the Lord has furnished me. But I must, in so doing, endeavor to overcome selfishness, idleness, the love of ease, avarice, hardness of heart, pride, and indifference, and I must love my neighbor as myself. Oh! what an important undertaking, and how many excuses and deceits this kind of charity will encounter and overcome.
"But I will look to Jesus, and pray to him; I will implore the secret guidance of his Spirit; and since he is faithful, he will not leave me alone, but will lead me, and enable me to walk day by day, I mean 'to-day,' in his sight, and in communion with him, who is so full of love and gentleness."
This, my dear Esther, is what I have copied from Amelia's journal. You see the light in which our friend regarded her life on earth, and how much importance she attached to one day—a single day.
As I read what she had written, I felt my soul humbled before God, and I trembled to think of the useless way in which I had hitherto spent my time.
You see in particular what Amelia felt on the subject of piety; what love her soul had for God! and this is what produced in her that active, sincere, and constant charity.
You cannot form the least idea of the work, of kindness and benevolence which she was enabled to accomplish. That passage, "The memory of the just is blessed," is truly applicable to her.
Amelia was justified in her Saviour, for she trusted in him, and thus was she also justified before God, by her faith in Jesus. The spirit of Jesus led her in "all her way," and in whatever family she appeared, her actions and words manifested a heavenly mind.
Her name is remembered with blessing in the hearts of all who knew her; her counsels, her instructions, her example, and her acts of benevolence, are continually spoken of by those who witnessed them, and it is thus that she left behind a sweet savor of holiness, like a ray of heavenly light.
Dear Esther, here is an example placed before us; it has been the will of God that we should know her, that we might be charmed with her excellence, and that the happiness both of her life and death, might tempt us to imitate her.
No, no, my sister, she is not dead; she is rather, as the poor workman said, at her grave, "a child of God in heaven." As she followed Jesus, let us also follow her, and let her memory be thus a blessing to us both.
God be with you, my dear sister. I long to see you, that we may pray the Lord together, to make us like his faithful, holy servant, the dear and pious Amelia.
The Tract found by the Way-Side.
"Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer." —Prov. XXV. 4.
Every one knows in these days what is meant by a religious tract. It is a little printed pamphlet, which is sold at a very low price, or is still oftener given away, or dropped in the streets and lanes, that those who either purchase, or accept, or find them, may read the truths of the Gospel, and the good advice which they contain.
This is an old-fashioned way of imparting instruction, both to high and low. It was in use, for instance, as early as the first days of the Reformation, when some faithful Christians of Picardy, in France, assembled together to read the Holy Scriptures, on which account they were exposed to persecution, death, and above all, to be burnt alive.
These true disciples of the Lord Jesus composed and distributed, with considerable difficulty, some little pamphlets, in which were taught the doctrines of salvation by Christ alone, and in a form which enabled the poor and ignorant to read and understand; for it was impossible for them at that time to procure a Bible, which was not only a scarce book, but cost a large sum of money: indeed, almost as much as a thousand Bibles would cost in the present day, and which, besides, they could not carry home and read quietly to themselves, as they were able to do with a simple tract.
At a later period, and chiefly for the last fifty years, this method has been adopted in almost all countries where true Christian churches and societies have been established; and even now, millions of these tracts, adapted to all ages and conditions of men, are published and distributed every year.
It is, however, but too true, that many tracts thus distributed are not religious tracts; that is to say, the substance of them is not in conformity with the truth of scripture. Many are published for the purpose of upholding false religion and wicked principles, and which, consequently, do great mischief to those who read them.
And if it be asked, "How can a good tract be distinguished from a bad one?" we thus reply to this very natural question.
A good tract is that which leads us to the Bible; which speaks of the love of God in Christ; and which encourages the reader to be holy from a motive of love to God.
A bad tract is therefore that which does not speak of the Bible; which tells us that salvation may be obtained by human merit, and which consequently would persuade us to be religious from interested motives: that is to say, to obtain pardon by means of our own good works.
Those tracts, too, which speak of man's happiness as if it came from man alone, and not from God, and which consequently deny the truth of God's word: these must also be called bad tracts, and must therefore be carefully avoided.
The good that is done by the distribution of good tracts, can scarcely be believed. There are many families, even in prosperity, who never tasted real happiness until some of these evangelical writings found their way amongst them. The following anecdote is an interesting proof of this:
The family of a vinedresser, in the Canton of Vaud, in Switzerland, was, unhappily, as well known in the village in which he lived, for his bad conduct, as for his impiety. The father, whose name we will not mention, was a proud and hard-hearted man, both intemperate and dissolute; and his wife, who thought as little of the fear of God as her husband did, was what might be called a noisy babbler.
The pastor of the village had often, but vainly, endeavored to lead these unhappy people to a sense of religion, but he was always received by them with scoffing and ridicule.
The family was composed of the vinedresser's three children. The eldest, Mark, was as haughty as his father, and although he was only fourteen years of age, he was already able to join in the disorders of his drunken and gaming companions. He was entirely devoid of any sense of religion. His sister, Josephine, who was rather more than twelve years old, possessed a more amiable disposition. The pastor's wife took much interest in this child, who could not help seeing that her parents were not guided by the Spirit of God. Peter, the youngest, was but ten years of age, but his brother's wicked example counteracted all the good which he might have received from that of his more amiable sister.
About the end of May, there was to be, in a village not far distant, a match at rifle-shooting. It was a public fete, at which all the people in the neighborhood assembled.
On the morning of this day, Mark had answered his father with great insolence, at which he was so much enraged, that he punished him severely, and forbad him, besides, to go to the fete. The father went thither himself, and Mark, after a moment's indecision, determined not to heed the command he had received, but to follow him to the shooting-match.
He therefore took advantage of his mother's absence, who, according to her usual custom, was gone to gossip with some of her neighbors, and notwithstanding the remonstrances of Josephine, he hastened over fields and hedges, to the scene of the match.
"What is this?" cried he, picking up a little pamphlet, with a cover of colored paper, which was lying on the path near the opening in the hedge. "Oh! it is one of those tracts they leave about everywhere; it will do very well to load my gun;" and so saying, he put the tract into his pocket, and ran on as before.
But when he approached the village where they were shooting, dancing, playing, and making a great noise, he suddenly stopped, for he recollected that if he should meet with his father, who was there, he would certainly beat him, and send him home again, in presence of all the people who might be assembled; besides, his brother Peter was there also, and he might see him, and tell his father. He therefore kept at a distance, behind a hedge, not daring to advance any farther.
"Supposing I read this book!" said he, at last, after having vainly racked his brain to find out how he could be at the fete without being discovered. "There is nothing in it but nonsense, I know beforehand; however, it will occupy me for a while."
This tract was called "The Happy Family," and Mark became so much interested in it, that he not only read the whole, but many parts of it twice over.
"How odd it is," said he, when he had finished reading; "I should never have thought it could be thus; this Andrew and Julia, after all, were much happier than we are, and than I am, in particular. Ah!" added he, as he walked on by the hedge-side, looking on the ground, "possibly Josephine may have spoken the truth, and that, after all, the right way is the one which this lady points out."
As he thought over the little story he had been reading, he retraced his steps towards his own village, at first rather slowly, but soon at a quicker pace, and he entered his father's house very quietly, and without either whistling or making a noise, as he generally did.
"You have not then been to the fete," said Josephine.
Mark.—(A little ashamed.)—"I dared not go, I was afraid my father would beat me."
Josephine.—"It would have been better, Mark, if you had been equally afraid of offending God."
Mark was on the point of ridiculing her, as he always did, but he recollected Andrew and Julia, and was silent.
Josephine.—(Kindly.)—"But is it not true, Mark? would it not be better to fear God, than to be always offending him?"
Mark.—(Knitting his brow.)—"Yes, as Andrew and Julia did! would it not?"
Josephine.—(surprised.)—"Of whom do you speak, Mark? Is it of "The Happy Family," in which an Andrew and a Julia are mentioned. Have you ever read that beautiful story?"
"Here it is," said Mark, drawing the tract from his pocket, and giving it to his sister.
Josephine.—"Yes, this is it, exactly! But brother, where did you get it, for it is quite new; did you buy it of a Scripture Reader."
"Did I buy it?" said Mark, sullenly. "Do you suppose I should spend my money in such nonsense as that?"
Josephine.—"Then how did you get it? Did any one give it you?"
Mark.—(Slyly.)—"Ah! they have often tried to give me some, but I tore them to pieces, and threw them away, before their faces!"
Josephine.—"So much the worse, Mark! for the truth of God is written in them, and it is very sinful to tear the truth of God in pieces."
Mark.—(Rudely.)—"But you see I have not torn this, for it is quite whole! And as you are so anxious to know how I came by it, I found it on the ground, near the road, and just beyond the brushwood."
Josephine.—"Ah! then I know where it came from. The Pastor's son, and the two sons of the schoolmaster, have got up a Religious Tract Society, who distribute them in all directions."
Mark.—(Reproachfully.)—"And pray why do they scatter them about in this way? Can't they leave people alone, without cramming every body's head with their own fancies. Let them keep their religion to themselves, and leave other people to do the same."
Josephine.—"Do you think, Mark, that Andrew and Julia did wrong to listen to their father and grandmamma, and to follow the precepts of the Bible in preference to the ridicule of scoffers."
Mark.—(Softened.)—"I did not say that.... I think Andrew and Julia were right; but ... come give me back the Tract; I want to look at something in it again."
Mark then went away, carrying the Tract with him; and shortly after, Josephine saw him sitting in the garden, behind a hedge of sweet- briar, reading it attentively.
"Where's that good-for-nothing Mark?" demanded the vinedresser, when he returned home at night half tipsy. "Did he dare to venture to the shooting-match? I was told that he was seen sneaking about the outskirts of the village! where is he now?"
"He went to bed more than an hour ago," answered his mother, "and was no more at the shooting-match than I was, for I saw him reading in the garden."
"Mark, reading!" replied his father. "What could he be reading? It would be a miracle to see him with a book in his hand. An idle fellow like him, who never did learn any thing, and never will!"
The vinedresser's wife was silent, and after putting poor little Peter to bed, who was quite tired and weary, she managed to get the father to bed also, and peace reigned for a season in this miserable abode.
Mark, however, who was not asleep when his father returned, had heard himself called a good-for-nothing idle fellow, and he trembled from head to foot, when he found he had been seen in the neighborhood of the village.
"What a good thing it was," said he to himself, "that I did not go on! It was certainly God who prevented me!" added he, half ashamed of the thought because it was so new to him; but he determined no longer to resist it.
On the morrow, to the great surprise of his father and mother, Mark got up in good humor; he answered his father without grumbling, and when he was desired to go and work in the field, Mark hastened to take his hoe and spade, and set off, singing merrily.
"What has happened to him?" asked the father. "One would scarcely believe it was he! Wife, what did you say to him yesterday, to make him so good-humored this morning?"
"I never even spoke to him," said his wife, dryly. "You know how whimsical he is."
"I wish he may remain in his present mind!" said the vinedresser; and thereupon he went off to the ale-house, to talk with his neighbors of the best shots of the preceding day.
Josephine related the history of the little tract to the good pastor's wife, who advised her to meet Mark on his return from the field, and to speak to him again of what he had read.
"Is it you, sister?" said Mark, in a happy tone of voice, as soon as he saw her. "It is very good of you to meet me."
Josephine, who never received such a welcome from him before, was quite delighted, and going up to him, she said, affectionately, "I want very much to talk with you again about Andrew and Julia."
Mark.—(Seriously.)—"And so do I. I should like very much to resemble them."
Josephine.—(Quickly.)—"Do you mean what you say, Mark? Have you thought of it again since yesterday?"
Mark.—(Still serious.)—"I have thought so much about it, that I am determined to change my habits. Yes, Josephine, I think you are right, and that, after all, religion is better than ridicule."
The conversation continued as it had commenced, and when Mark returned home, he went up and kissed his mother, who was just laying the table for dinner.
"What's the matter?" said she, with some surprise; "you seem in very good spirits, today."
"Nothing is the matter, good mother, but that I wish to alter my conduct," replied Mark, seriously.
"To alter your conduct," cried little Peter, as he looked up in his brother's face, and began to titter.
"And you, too, little Peter," said Mark, "you must become good, also."
"What a funny idea," cried the child, laughing. "What has made you turn schoolmaster, all at once? and, pray, when am I to begin?"
"We shall see by-and-bye," said Mark, kindly. "In the meantime, come and help me to tend the cow."
"There is something behind all this!" said the mother and she blushed to think that this change had not been occasioned by anything she had said or done to him, herself.
When the father returned from the ale-house, they all sat down to dinner, and as usual, without saying "grace." Josephine said hers to herself, and Mark, who recollected Andrew and Julia, blushed when he took his spoon to eat his soup.
After dinner, when they were out of the house, Josephine said to Mark, "What a pity it is, brother, that papa does not pray before each meal."
"All that will come in time, Josephine," said Mark; "I never prayed myself, and yet ... I must now begin directly. But what shall I do? Papa will be very angry if he sees me religious."
"I do not think he will," said Josephine, "for I heard him say to mumma, this morning, that he should be very glad if your conduct improved."
Mark blushed, but did not reply. He returned to his work without being desired to do so, and his father, who was quite astonished, said to his wife, "There is something very extraordinary about Mark. I wish it may last."
"You wish it may last!" said his wife; "how can you wish that, when you do not care to improve yourself."
"And you, my poor wife," said the vinedresser, "do you care to change any more than I do? I think as to that matter, we cannot say much against each other."
"Well, at all events," said his wife, "I am not a drunkard."
"Nor am I a tattler," replied the husband. "And for this reason let us each think of our own fault, and if Mark is disposed to reform, do not let us prevent him; for, my poor wife, our example is not a very good one for him."
Josephine, who was working at her needle, in the adjoining room, could not help overhearing this confession of her father, and she felt the more encouraged to uphold Mark in his good intention.
She therefore went again to meet him, and repeated to him all she had heard. "I think," added she, "you will do well to relate what has happened to our father and mother, and read them the little tract."
"Not yet," said Mark, "for my principles are not sufficiently strong. It is but an hour since the ale-house keeper's son laughed at me, because I told him I would not play at nine-pins with him, during working hours. He asked me if I was becoming a Methodist, and I did not know what answer to make. However, I trust I am already improving, and I have read the little tract again for the third time."
"Oh!" said Josephine, "we ought to read the Bible, and we do not possess one."
"True," said Mark, somewhat surprised. "I never thought of that. We have really no Bible in the house! Indeed, this must not be," he added, looking on the ground, and striking it with his spade.
"What shall we do, then?" said Josephine, "for it would be very nice to have one."
Mark became thoughtful, but said nothing. From that day his conduct was always regular, and his habits industrious, so much so, that his father, who was never in the habit of showing him much kindness, said to him, at the dinner table, and before all the rest of the family, "Well, my good Mark, tell us what has happened to you; for it is very pleasant to us to see how well you now behave. Tell us, my boy, what has been the cause of this improvement."
"It was from this book," said Mark, drawing it out of his pocket, where he always kept it.
"What book is it?" said his mother, scornfully. "Is it not some of that horrid trash, that"...
"Be silent," cried the father. "If this book has done good, how can it be horrid trash? Do sour grapes produce good wine?"
"But," replied the mother, bitterly, "I will not have any of those books and tracts in this house."
"Well, for my part," said the vinedresser, "I will encourage all that teach my children to do what is right. Mark has worked well for the last eight days; he has not occasioned me a moment's vexation during the whole of that time, and as he says that this book has been the means of his improvement, I shall also immediately read it myself. Come, Mark, let us hear it. You can read fluently; come, we will all listen. Wife, do you be quiet, and you too, Peter; as for Josephine she is quite ready."
Mark began to read, but he could not proceed far; his father got up and went out, without saying a word, and his mother began to remove the dinner-things.
But as soon as the family re-assembled in the evening, the father said to Mark, "Go on with your reading, Mark, I want to hear the end, for I like the story."
Mark read, and when he came to that part of the tract, in which the Bible is mentioned, the vinedresser looked up to a high shelf on the wall, where were some old books, and said, "wife, had we not once a Bible?"
"Fifteen years ago," she answered, "you exchanged it for a pistol."
The vinedresser blushed, and listened with out farther interruption until Mark had done reading. When the tract was finished, he remained silent, his head leaning on his hands, and his elbows on his knees. Josephine thought this was the time to speak about the Bible, which she had so long wished to possess, and she went up to her father, and stood for some time by his side without speaking.
Her father perceived her, and raising his head, he said to her, "What do you want, Josephine, tell me, my child, what do you want to ask me?"
"Dear papa," said the child, "I have long desired to read the Bible, would you be so kind as to buy me one?"
"A Bible," cried her mother, "what can you want with a Bible, at your age?"
"Oh! wife, wife," said the vinedresser, much vexed, "when will you help me to do what is right?" "Yes, my child," he added, kissing Josephine's cheek, "I will buy you one to-morrow. Do you think there are any to be had at the pastor's house?"
"Oh! yes, plenty," cried Josephine, "and very large ones too!"
"Very well then," said the father, as he got up, and went out of the house, "you shall have a very large one."
"But," said his wife, calling after him, "you don't know how much it will cost."
"It will not cost so much as the wine I mean no longer to drink!" replied the father, firmly.
He kept his word. The Bible was purchased on the morrow, and the same evening the father desired Mark to read him a whole chapter. The ale-house saw him no more the whole of that week, and still less the following Sunday. His friends laughed at him, and wanted to get him back. He was at first tempted and almost overcome, but the thought of the Bible restrained him, and he determined to refuse.
"Are you gone mad, then?" said they.
"No," replied he, "but I read the Bible now, and as it says, that drunkards shall not 'inherit the kingdom of God,' I listen to what it says, and I desire to cease to be a drunkard."
"You see," said Josephine to Mark, as they accompanied each other to church, "how good God has been to us. We have now a Bible, and it is read by all at home."
Mark.—"Have you been able to tell the pastor's son how much good his tract has done us?"
Josephine.—"I told his mother."
Mark.—"And what did she say?"
Josephine.—"She said, 'God is wonderful in all his ways,' and that, 'He which hath begun the good work in us, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.'"
Mark.—(Feelingly.)—"Who could have thought that when I went as a rebel to that Fete, that God was there waiting to draw me to himself. But, dear Josephine, there is yet much to be done."
"But," said Josephine, "where God has promised he is also able to perform. He has told us to pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us do so, and you will see that God will renew our hearts, and make us wise and good."