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Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold we come unto thee, for thou art the Lord our God.-JER. iii. 22.
EMILY took the earliest opportunity which her different studies allowed her, of entering into serious conversation with Louisa. She found that she had, for some time, been living at distance from God, struggling against the remonstrances of conscience, slighting the admonitions of the Spirit, and consequently giving way more and more to the dominion of sin, and involving her soul in the dreadful gloom of guilt and misery.
Every evil propensity of the natural mind was thus nourished into increasing strength, and every passion which had been heretofore subdued, broke out into fearful rebellion. The inevitable consequences were, alienation of heart from God, a guilty dread of approaching Him, sorrow and anguish of spirit, and a sullen determination to reject everything like hope. In this gloomy recklessness of unbelief, she "refused to return to her insulted Saviour, and was resolved to lie down in despair, with the fearful expectation of impending punishment.
It was in vain that Emily pleaded the all-suffering atonement, and the inexhaustible fullness of the Lord Jesus Christ; in vain that she pointed to his cross, appealed again and again to His promises, and implored her, with tears of passionate entreaty, only to cast herself on His mercy and faithfulness. Louisa remained gloomy, silent, and unmoved, and she at last left her in almost hopeless discouragement; to relieve her overburdened heart by laying her case at the feet of her compassionate Redeemer.
"There is no hope," Louisa had said, and the enemy of souls was busily engaged in fixing this persuasion in her mind. But it was not so much from the magnitude of her guilt, as from an erroneous estimation of the power of Divine Grace, that she drew the fatal conclusion. "I feel that I never shall be able to serve God aright," would she say, in answer to Emily's earnest representations. "I know that all you urge is true that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin,' and that' though my sins be as scarlet,' He can make them 'white as snow.' But should He even extend towards me that mercy which was extended to Manassah and Saul, of what use would it be, but to increase my condemnation? I should only be pardoned to offend again,-only restored to relapse, with aggravated guilt and misery."
"But, my dear Louisa, you have hitherto trusted in your own strength, and that is the reason that you have found it worse
than weakness: In the Lord Jehovah alone is everlasting strength;' and it is by his power alone that we are kept 'through faith unto salvation.' Remember that gracious promise, addressed to all those who, renouncing all dependence on their own strength, look to Him alone for support in every hour of need; 'Fear not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness."
"But, Miss Mortimer, I have never been under the influence of divine grace; I have never been a Christian, or I could not be what I now am, or act as I do. I have been a hypocrite too long; I will be so no longer; I will not insult God, by a profession which I cannot maintain. You have been deceived in me, and I have hitherto deceived myself."
Well, supposing it is so, Louisa, your duty is equally plain and simple. Look unto me,' says the Saviour, and be ye saved :' 'him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.' Come to him, then, my beloved girl; come to him now, in humble faith. He will in no wise cast you out-in no wise, my Louisa! they are his own gracious words. Come to him and you will find him faithful to his promise. Oh! do not, by your obstinate unbelief, shut yourself out from his mercy and compassion!" Emily was quite overpowered, as she pronounced these words, and her full heart found some relief in a flood of tears.
Louisa did not answer, but she concealed her face with her hands. A step was now heard ascending the stairs, and Emily had scarcely time to dry her tears, when Madame d'Elfort entered the room. She anxiously inquired respecting Louisa's indisposition, and appeared quite alarmed on looking at her. The mental anguish which had been for some time preying on her soul, and which was only the more visible from the assumption of unnatural apathy, had indeed, during the preceding night, made fearful ravages on her health. There was a wildness in her eye, and a convulsive agitation occasionally perceptible on her features, which strikingly contrasted with the death-like paleness of her countenance. Madame d'Elfort took her hand, and instinctively drew back at the frightful violence of her pulse. She gave her a composing cordial, commanded that the greatest stillness should prevail in the adjacent rooms, and requested Emily to visit her occasionally; expressing her intention of sending for the medical attendant in the evening, should no change for the better appear to have taken place.
Emily sat for a long time by the side of Louisa's bed, and made several attempts at conversation, anxiously desirous to lead her back to the Saviour for peace and comfort; but she could not prevail upon her to speak. She read to her in a low voice, the most general invitations and promises of scripture, and patheti
cally entreated her to embrace the sweet encouragement they offered. But it seemed all in vain; Louisa continued silent; and Emily, whose feelings were totally overcome by this distressing conduct, at last dropped the Bible on the bed, and hurried to the casement, to indulge her tears. The window commanded a view of the garden, and, in order to recover some degree of calmness, she stood a moment or two contemplating the scene before her. When she returned to the bedside, Louisa had apparently fallen into a quiet slumber. She gazed on her countenance in silence; but the expression of deep-seated anguish it presented was too painful for her agitated mind to endure; she staggered out of the room with a sensation of faintness, and was just able to reach the garden, in time for the fresh air to prevent her swooning.
The wind was howling dismally through the now leafless trees, and the air was damp and chilling; but she heeded not these things, and felt not their influence; for her thoughts were too deeply engaged on the subject of Louisa's situation. It was evident that a kind of sullen despair had taken possession of her mind; and that her health was rapidly sinking under its effects.
From this distressing reflection, Emily was led to revert to the causes which had gradually produced these painful effects on her young friend. It was true, indeed, that the immediate occasion of her misery was a gradual declension from God,-a departure from the way of spiritual religion, and an habitual neglect of watchfulness, and communion with her Saviour. But how many collateral circumstances had contributed to this declension! and how difficult was it, in her situation, to avoid the snares into which Louisa had fallen! Thrown into the midst of ungodly society, continually exposed to the dangers of error, or the fatal influence of irreligion, surrounded by the evils of superstition, connected with the most daring disregard of God's commandments, allowed but few opportunities of enjoying the public means of grace, having no experienced Christian friend to guide her steps through the mazes of temptation, harassed with incessant study, and occupations the most laborious to the mind, which she was compelled to pursue with an application amounting almost to slavery, and deprived of the smallest portion of leisure, which might have ena bled her to cultivate, by religious exercises, those Christian graces she so much needed, and that habitual nearness to God, which alone could form the safeguard of her soul-thus situated, thus beset, could it be a subject of wonder that she had declined, and that the fearful clouds of despondency seemed now even to threaten her reason and her life?
Emily took a mental survey of her English companions in the school; and her heart sank in dismay, as she observed the pernicious influence which their situation had already exercised over every mind, and especially over those for whom she felt more im
mediately concerned. Some had plunged into giddy dissipation, and disregarded everything that was serious or scriptural. One had not only adopted French manners, and French principles, but seemed in the greatest danger from the fascinations of popery. A third was vainly struggling to silence an enlightened conscience, and to persuade herself that she could be happy without vital religion. A fourth was evidently suffering from some unknown cause of mental anguish; and the mind of a fifth seemed ready to sink under a weight of hopeless despondency.
Emily felt oppressed by this melancholy review, and could not but deeply deplore that cruel ambition of worldly accomplishments, or that reckless indifference to their eternal interests, which so generally induced Protestant parents to expose their children to the baneful influence of French society, and a French education.
It was not till the dinner-bell summoned her back to the house, that Emily left the bower in which she had been revolving these painful subjects of contemplation. As soon as she could leave the dining-room, she returned to her own apartment, where she found a letter, which had just been brought for her. She opened it, with eager haste, and perceived with delight the signatures of Mr. and Mrs. Somerville. She could not read it without tears, for the advice it contained was peculiarly appropriate. Her friends exhorted her to "cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart," "-to be tremblingly on her guard against the spirit of the world, and, in short, against everything which tended, even in the slightest degree, to draw her affections away from heavenly things Mrs. Somerville made several kind inquiries about Caroline, and expressed some surprise at not having heard from her; and Mr. Somerville, after dwelling at some length on the preciousness, the suitableness, and immutability of the divine promises, and applying them with peculiar force to his young friend's situation and circumstances, concluded in the following manner:
"And now, my dear child, I have only room to add a very few words. Would you enjoy the richness, the unspeakable blessedness, of these promises? Keep up a close and familiar intercourse with your gracious, all-sufficient Redeemer, 'It hath pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell;' and it is your delightful privilege to make use of Him by faith, in all His covenant offices. Beware of a lukewarm and undecided state; beware of 'following Christ afar off;' for you will never enjoy solid peace, till you 'abide in Him,' by means of the most intimate communion. Farewell, my dear young friend: 'I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up,' and 'establish you in the faith.'"
"O! my father, my friend !" exclaimed Emily, as she folded up this kind and truly welcome letter. "How happy should I be, if I could, at this moment, unburden my anxious heart to you, and
entreat the benefit of your advice and your prayers! But," added she, suddenly checking herself, "have I not a better friend and counsellor at hand, even that heavenly Father, to whom you so kindly direct me?" She covered her face with her hand, and breathed a silent prayer for the grace and assistance of the Holy Spirit. She was suddenly interrupted by Helen Douglas, who entered to inform her that the Italian lesson had been some time begun, and that the master had expressed some displeasure at her absence. She hastily followed Helen to the place, and was constantly engaged with a succession of masters till the evening.
As soon as her accustomed duties were over, she hastened to Louisa's room, and found her asleep. The ashy paleness of her cheek had given place to a deep flush; her hand was pressed on her forehead, and there was an expression of suffering on her interesting countenance which powerfully affected the heart of Emily. A thousand tender and mournful thoughts rushed on her mind, mingled with a feeling of apprehension, which, however, was somewhat softened by a glimpse of hope and confidence. She sank on her knees by the bedside; and, while her tears flowed silently and unrestrainedly, she poured out her full heart in mental supplication.
Louisa now heaved a sigh, and Emily, perceiving that she was awaking, started up from her knees. faint smile welcomed her approach, and, to the anxious inquiry of her friend, Louisa only answered by holding up the Bible, which Emily now perceived had been clasped in her right hand. A thrill of doubtful joy darted across Emily's mind, like the glorious sunbeam of summer, when it suddenly bursts through a watery cloud; but what was the rapture of her feelings, when Louisa said as she pressed her hand with affectionate energy, "O! my dearest Miss Mortimer! how can I thank you sufficiently for all your unwearied kindness? I owe you a thousand thanks for pointing out to me those precious portions of scripture. Notwithstanding the hardness of my heart, notwithstanding my dreadful insensibility, I was led to read them over again, after I had induced you to leave the room, by feigning to fall asleep. I found my state and character most exactly described in them, and felt reproved for my folly, in persuading myself that 'there was no hope' for me. How was my hard and rebellious heart subdued, when I reflected on those gracious invitations, and those precious promises! Look, my dear friend," she continued, pointing to a verse, while her tears flowed in abundance, "look at this soul-subduing remonstrance; Wilt thou not, from this time, cry unto me, My Father, thou art the guide of my youth! Oh! yes: I trust my Saviour has made me willing again to embrace his salvation. But what completely demolished the separating wall of my sullen despair, was the blessed assurance contained in this verse, 'But I said, How shall I put thee among the children, and give thee a pleasant land