THE VANITY OF WEALTH AND THE VICTORY OF GRACE
In the suburbs of a large manufacturing town was a pretty villa, well known for the air of luxury and comfort that prevailed both within and without. If any stepped within, they beheld well-carpeted rooms, easy couches, and elaborate works of art; while without, was a well-stocked garden and conservatory, all betokening wealth and plenty. Indeed, the possessor of Clifton Villa was what the world calls a man of fortune. Mr. Hobbs, had been for many years a grasp-all, money-getting man of the world. Money was his god, and business was in his thoughts morning, noon, and night.
If he took any fresh step, his moving principle was, will it bring me in more money? Nor did he ever dream of his prosperity being in the least attributable to a God of Providence, who has the affairs of all men at His command. Indeed, like the man in the Gospel, if not in words in spirit, he was saying, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.”
Mr. Hobbs’ wife, a person of a weak and consumptive constitution, betaking too much of her husband’s spirit ere success crowned his efforts, had fallen an early victim to fatigue and anxiety, and never lived to reap the benefit of their accumulated riches.
The only result of this union was one daughterÂ—poor Caroline. Alas! poor girl, she inherited the constitution of her mother;
and although she grew up like a beautiful rose in their midst, those who could not discern deeper than the tinted cheek and beaming eyes, read the fact that Caroline was not very long for this cold and chilly world. But why call her poor, when we have to tell of her being a child of God, and an heir of glory? She had been led to feel poor in spirit; and though surrounded with everything that gives earthly gratification, she had lost all relish for baubles and trifles of time. How this came about, under such uncongenial circumstances, is difficult exactly to learn; but the difficulty proves the truth of the Scripture, which tells us, ‘The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.’
Caroline, having come of age, it was the determination of her father to give a grand festival upon the occasion. Caroline much dreaded it, for already the work of divine grace had commenced in her heart, and given her a desire for things which are unseen and eternal; still she feared to offend her father, who evidently doted upon her. Every preparation was therefore made and the day in due time arrived. Caroline appeared in the midst of the gay assemblage, and tried to put on an air of cheerfulness; but oh, how little did surrounding worldlings know what was passing within! Presently a gentleman, of easy deportment and good manners, stepped forward, and asked her to join him in the next waltz. Poor Caroline turned as pale as death; a tremor came over her; she had never felt any hestitation before; but just as the request was made. Job’s description of the worldlings and their doings rushed into her mind, and the words came with irresistible force, “They send forth their little ones like a flock, and their children dance”, and this was followed by our Lord’s own words, “Them that honour me, I will honour.” And she trembled to run counter to the convictions which were at work in her breast. The Squire had watched his daughter’s agitation with surprise mingled with regret, for the gentleman who had thus addressed her was a rich man of pleasure; and thoughts had run through his mind that his money would be very desirable if it could be brought into his family. Caroline, too, became aware that her father’s eyes were fixed upon her, which increased her agitation, while she stammered out that she must decline, as she was not well; and, leaving the room hastily, she sought her chamber. There she threw herself into an easy chair, and cried out to God in earnest prayer, “Lord, what shall I do? Temptation is strong:
lead me, guide me, and give me grace to withstand the evil hour.” And God heard her prayer, and did give her grace from that hour to make a decided stand against the world and its ways.
It so happened, that although Mr. Hobbs’ mind was full of earthly gain and earthly things, yet, like hundreds, ah! and thousands of people, he must have his pew at church; nor did it matter to him whether the clergyman was a strong advocate for Romish practices and forms. Caroline, for many years had been oft-times beguiled with the soft chanting of the choristers, and the swelling sounds of a full toned organ, to believe that she was practising true devotion; but now that the Lord was opening her eyes to a new state of things, she began to discover, that instead of being a saint worthy of heaven, she was a sinner deserving hell; and a perfect disgust for the mockery and mummery before her took possession of her soul. Here, then, was a fresh cause of trial for her, for she knew to refuse going to church would highly offend her father; for the clergyman was his particular friend, and. as he termed him, just one of his sort. Depend upon it, there is something wrong when preacher and worldling are “hail fellows well met.”
It was during the exercises of soul attendant upon this state of things that Caroline happened, one Monday morning, to converse with John Fellows, her father’s gardener. She had often noticed what a soberminded, grave-looking man was old John, and yet, withal, a sweet smile of contentment of-times played over his now wrinkled countenance. Caroline was, this morning especially drawn towards the good man; she did not know why; her heart was very sad and it seemed a relief to talk to someone who, at all events, was not full of the gaiety and vanities of this world.
Old John was brushing up the well rolled gravel path as Caroline approached making an observation about the fineness of the morning.
“Ah, Miss,” replied old John, “God is very good to us, to give us such beautiful weather: His mercies are new every morning, and fresh every evening; and great is His faithfulness.”
Caroline could not have been more struck down had she heard the voice of an angel from heaven than she was at these words, and the thought rushed into her mind, but oh, is there mercy for me? Here was a poor old man, in humble circumstances, acknowledging the goodness and mercy of God, while she, surrounded as she was with comforts, had not half thought how good and merciful God had been to her. When she had regained a measure of composure, she asked John, how he had learnt to be so thankful for the mercies of God. Poor old John lifted up his head, and, leaning upon the handle of his broom, replied, as the tears started in his eye and trickled down his cheek, “It’s twenty-six years ago, Miss, since the Lord showed me that I was a poor sinner, and nothing at all; and that, if saved at all, it must be by
His sovereign grace and mercy; and you must excuse me, for my plainness of speech. I have watched you for some time, and I do believe He has begun the same work in your soul. I told my wife so last week and I know I ar’nt far out.” Actions speak louder than words, and poor Caroline’s response to these heart-telling expressions was a flood of tears; and so old John and Caroline wept together, for they were fellow-heirs of the inheritance with the saints in light. Although the one was a cottager, and the other the daughter of a wealthy Squire, no matter, God is no respecter of persons; and what touched the hidden spring with one, vibrated through the spiritual frame of the other, for both were born again in Christ Jesus. Caroline was now called away to resume her household duties: but the conversation with old John had made a lasting impression upon her mind; and when Sunday returned, her heart grew sick and faint at the idea of having to go to her father’s fashionable church; and she wondered in her heart where old John went on the Sabbath Day, and she determined to seek an opportunity of asking him. Tomorrow came, and with it a round of gay people at the Villa; and she seemed not to be able to gain any time for reflection or closet prayerÂ—a privilege which she was now beginning to consider her greatest enjoyment; so that it was not until the end of the week that she found an opportunity to speak to the old gardener, and that was in a way she did not at all anticipate. It so happened that her father had been out late with some friends, and had forgotten to mention that he wished some fruit trees trained over a certain wall; but now old John was gone home; and, as he was going off early in the morning, he would not be able to give him directions. Caroline heard all her father’s desires, and volunteered to go to the old man’s cottage that evening, for, she said, “I want a walk, and I may as well go that way as another.” It was a simple circumstance; but, somehow or other, a thrill of joy ran through Caroline’s heart as she turned down the lane leading to the old man’s cottage. And what was her surprise, when nearing the casement, to hear the voice of the old man, in a loud key, giving out those precious words,
“Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee!”
and then in a moment, a number of voices joined in the old familiar tune, which goes so well to those memorable words. Caroline felt melted to the very heart. Oh, there seemed such a response in her own soul to those words, they were so suitable to her troubled mind, and she needed so much that blessed Refuge which they so sweetly speak of. After listening for a few minutes, she felt a great desire to enter the cottage. Still she hesitated; but a secret influence seemed to draw her to the door, and, gently opening it, she found herself in the midst of about twenty persons, mostly aged and infirm, seated upon forms, while old John was in an arm-chair with an out-spread Bible before him and a hymn-book in his hand, from which he was reading the precious words
alluded to. As she entered, all eyes turned upon her, and old John himself paused at seeing such an unexpected visitor; but, moving the best chair he possessed into the best corner of the cottage, he begged she would take a seat, and in a moment he went on with the hymn. Caroline sank into the chair thus offered with deep emotion, nor could she keep from shedding tears as they sang onÂ—
“Nothing in my hand I bring;
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Black, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me. Saviour, or I die.”
The hymn over, the old man called upon an aged cripple in the corner to pray, and Caroline inwardly thought she had never heard such a prayer in her life. Accustomed so much to the form of prayer, such a spontaneous and heartfelt pouring out of soul before God was entirely new to her. The prayer over, and another sweet hymn sung, old John rose up with a calm and happy countenance, and gave out his text from the PsalmsÂ—”He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; that he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people”, ascribing all this gracious work to the Lord Jesus Christ, and showing the dignity put upon a poor and needy sinner, whom He raised up out of the dust of human nature, and out of the dunghill of earthly things, and placed him in an immovable position among His princes. Caroline had never heard the blessed gospel of the great God so sweetly preached before, she quite forgot that she was listening to an untutored man, for his talk was like the talk of heaven, and, in proclaiming the position of the poor and needy, she found herself and her feelings completely described. Nor was she left without a solace, for the Lord Jesus was set forth as the Friend of the poor and needy, who were advised to come just as they are to Him. At the conclusion of the old man’s plain yet sound gospel sermon, he took a small hymn-book from his pocket and gave out the eighty-first of Hart’s hymns. Caroline wondered who Hart was: she had never heard of such a poet: but oh, how the words melted her heartÂ—
Ye lambs of Christ’s fold,
Ye weaklings in faith;
Who long to lay hold
On life by His death:
Who fain would believe Him,
And in your best room
Would gladly receive Him
But fear to presume.
Those feeble desires,
Those wishes so weak,
Tis Jesus inspires,
And bids you still seek;
His Spirit will cherish
The life He first gave;
You never shall perish,
If Jesus can save.
Oh, those two last lines again melted Caroline; and all the time that old John was concluding the service with prayer, she kept inwardly sayingÂ—
“You never shall perish,
If Jesus can save.”
Caroline had so purely enjoyed herself among this little band of God’s believing people, that she well nigh forgot to deliver her father’s message to old John; and she quite forgot how rapidly the time had gone, so that when she reached home she found there had been no small degree of anxiety concerning her unusual absence at so late an hour. And what she dreaded most were the enquiries of her father. Sure enough he wanted to know the cause of her prolonged stay; and Caroline’s heart at first sunk within her as she began to tell him the plain truthÂ—how she had found old John holding a cottage meeting, and the enjoyment she had in joining the little company. After she had finished her tale, her father sternly told her he “thought it a great pity she should so degrade herself; and besides, what business had that foolish old fellow to attempt to preach? he had never been to college, what did he know about preaching?” Caroline did not reply to her father’s remarks but that passage came to her mind where it tells us, that God takes the weak things of this world to confound the things that are mighty; and as soon as she could she sought the retirement of her bedroom, to pour out her soul earnestly to God for the Holy Spirit’s guidanceÂ—for she felt difficulties and perplexities were fast gathering around her. As she prayed, a holy calm came over her spirit, and she felt satisfied that Jesus died for her, and would never leave nor forsake her in any extremity. How soon was her simple faith to be put to the test. She little thought of the deep trial that awaited her. The fact was, Mr. Hobbs’ companions over the wine-bottle were men of the world, and they had not sought acquaintance with him for nothing; but had so worked their cards as to draw him into the directorship of a large banking company; and, like many more, he had not gone into the working of the affair, but concluded that what his friends, (whom he deemed thoroughly practical men), said was all right, while they had been all the while living upon his duplicity, he having staked a large sum in the affair.
It was the morning after Caroline had so enjoyed herself at old John’s cottage, that news came of the break up of the banking establishment. Here was a blow for her. Her father was like a caged tiger; he placed the room, swore he was a ruined man, and gave way to the most violent paroxysms of rage. Caroline tried all she could to soothe her distressed parent. She leaned
upon his shoulder, and said, “Don’t give way so father; recollect there is a God in heaven who will never leave nor forsake us if we put our trust in Him. Oh, let us bow to His will, and believe that He means this dispensation of His providence for our eternal good.” But the stern man answered this pathetic appeal by roughly asking his daughter what God had to do with money matters? “Oh, a great deal, dear father,” responded the poor girl, “for He has said, your silver and gold is mine, the cattle upon a thousand hills are all mine; seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, and all things shall be added thereunto.” And so the poor girl tried to pour into the ear of her troubled parent words of comfort and peace, well knowing that it required the power of God alone to reach the heart.
It soon became evident that the family must now bid farewell to Clifton Villa, and seek a much more humble abode. The affair of the treachery and deceit at the banking establishment soon came before the world. But in all great trials there is a bright side; always a little peep of sunshine breaks through the black, rolling clouds; and so it was here. Mr. Hobbs had years back settled a small annuity on his daughter. This now became the source of their earthly subsistence. Caroline considered this very merciful of God; she therefore poured out her heart in gratitude to God for thus dealing so mercifully with them; and one thing especially cheered her was that all her father’s gay and worldly minded companions forsook him and fled. Depend upon it, if a man has not the grace of God in his heart, and a precious Christ to live upon, there are seasons in his life when he will feel a miserable man. Caroline saw all this, and it became a fixed desire of her mind, “Oh, that my father knew the Lord, and was safe for eternity.” The same wish had oft times crossed her mind during their prosperity; but there seemed so much to hinder it. They lived in the midst of such a web of hindrances to anything approaching that which is godly, that she despaired of such a realization; but now that trial had brought them low, and broken down the strong barriers of worldly life, she hoped, and prayed, and beseiged the throne in secret, that such might be the case. Ah, he who undertakes such a task must wait long and patiently for the Lord’s will.
Day after day and month after month rolled away, and Caroline beheld no decided change in her father’s mind, but a living on in apparent indifference to the soul’s eternal welfare. The furnace must be heated still more ere the dross drops from the precious metal, and now anxiety had worked its effect with poor Caroline’s constitution; never very strong, the chilly blasts of adversity swept not over her tender frame without shaking the tenement to its very foundation. She struggled against her feelings, and hoped that her father would not discern her sufferings, but all in vain; her inward weakness increased till she got less and less able to get out. and eventually was obliged to take to her bed,
Thus separated from the outward world, two desires absorbed all her thoughts, namely, the conversion of her father and her own soul’s safety.
Caroline had continued, as long as she was able, to wend her way to old John’s cottage, and had enjoyed many a happy hour in joining in the simple worship of the gathered group: but now old John missed his fair hearerÂ—the chair was placed for her as usual, but it remained vacant, and old John (who since the break up of Clifton Villa had been at work elsewhere) determined to seek out Caroline’s abode, and ventured to make enquiries about her. It was with deep feelings that old John for the first time beheld their humble residence, so different from former days; nor were his feelings diminished when he was told of Caroline’s severe illness. The attendant who had given John this information, seeing an old man in such humble circumstances, never thought to invite him in; but the moment Caroline heard who it was, she begged of them to go after him, and ask him to come in. Poor old John was brought back, protesting that he was not worthy of such a favour; but Caroline assured him that she only wished she were half as rich in faith as he was, and it was just poor unworthy sinners that Jesus came to save. Now they talked of His love, His faithfulness, His mercy, and His grace; and, after a happy season of prayer and praise, John left, promising to come again if allowed so great a privilege. After this interview Caroline became rapidly worse; but oh, the joy and peace of her mind as the poor tabernacle was being taken down. Yet this was not always so; no, there were seasons when the tempter was suffered fearfully to harass and perplex, but yet he was only allowed to go the length of his chain.
It became quite evident to the poor girl that her sickness was unto death; and her greatest concern seemed to be for her father. Many a night of groaning and sighing had she passed through on his account, and yet the Lord did not seem to answer her prayers. One morning, after a distressing night, she felt she must be faithful to him; and calling her afflicted father to her bedside, she told him plainly that she had no doubt but what in a few more days she must be laid in the cold, cold grave; and she said, “Father, if I can never speak again to you, oh, let me urge you to think of eternity, and the fearful consequences of dying in your sins. Jesus will never cast away a seeking soul. Oh, do, dear father, seek Jesus, nor rest day and night till you receive a sense of pardon through the blood of the Lamb.” The stern worldling was evidently moved by her affectionate appeal; but yet God did not seem to have touched his heart. No, we must pray again and again, and wrestle and faint not, but believe our breathings are registered in heaven, to be answered in the Lord’s own time and not ours. In this instance, as in numerous others, the earnest prayers were answered in the Lord’s time; for in a signal way, the stern old father’s heart was melted, and the daughter’s appeal brought to
mindÂ—Father, oh, father, think of eternity! He did. and was brought to Jesus as a penitent sinner; and became not again rich in worldly goods, but rich in faith, and an heir to unfading joys. Soon after this interview with her father the hour of death approached. Oh, it was a solemn and yet a glorious scene. She died resting in Jesus, and her last words wereÂ— ” Tis peaceÂ—peace! Â— glory! Â—glory!” May Caroline’s Jesus be yours.