Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Female Scripture Biographies, Vol. II by Francis Augustus Cox

Part 2 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

But his character was more than innocent; this, as the astonished
centurion exclaimed, "Truly, this man was the _Son of God_!" Well might
she wonder that no angel appeared to rescue the expiring Redeemer, and
that he who had saved others did not save himself! Well might she have
been confounded at the mysterious circumstance, that he whom winds and
waves obeyed, and whose presence on earth was felt by universal nature,
should die in apparent disgrace, exposed to the raillery of his
inveterate enemies!

This afflicted mother was also a _widow_! Long since the evangelical
narrative has dropped the name of her husband, doubtless because Joseph
was no more; but Jesus survived to console her amidst domestic
misfortunes, to cheer her declining days, to prop her falling house, to
pour the wine of consolation into her cup of sorrow, and the light of
celestial truth into her mind. He was all goodness, all perfection, who
could never forget a mother--a _widowed_ mother, wherever "he went about
doing good"--was to this awful hour her staff and comfort. How keen was
the edge of that piercing sword of which Simeon spake, and what
unparralleled grief was hers when she saw the cross, and the tortures, and
the blood of her Son!

Notwithstanding all, Mary is not seen wringing her hands and tearing her
hair in distraction; nor is she heard to utter intemperate language
against his persecutors, or to manifest resentment at the dispensations of
Heaven: she neither curses man, nor blasphemes God; nor do we observe her
fainting beneath the pressure of accumulated woes; but she stands near the
cross, in solemn silence, pondering, in an attitude of profound
meditation, and submitting to the purposes of Providence.

Let us admire the power of that "grace" which is promised to Christians,
"to help them in time of need," and of the efficacy of which the present
scene furnishes so substantial an evidence. Is it possible that after such
a record as this we should ever doubt or forget the divine assurances--"My
grace is sufficient for thee"--"When thou passest through the waters I
will be with thee, and through the rivers they shall not overflow thee;
when thou walkest through the fire thou shall not be burnt, neither shall
the flame kindle upon thee?" Should thy desponding heart be ready to
distrust the wisdom or deny the goodness of thy "Father who is in heaven,"
when sorrows, diversified and oppressive, burden thy spirit, think of the
mother of Jesus at the cross of her Son!

If the sublime sympathy of Mary prevented the recollection of her personal
condition, Jesus was not so overwhelmed with affliction as to be unmindful
of the future lot of his poor, pennyless, helpless, widowed, and weeping
mother; but committed her to the care of his disciple JOHN, directing him
to regard her henceforward as a mother, and her to consider him as a son.
_Woman, behold thy son_--"My beloved disciple will fulfil every office of
filial tenderness, and at my request he will receive and provide for my
destitute parent." _Behold_, said he, addressing John, _behold thy
mother_; "take her to thy house, allow her to share thy means, respect and
supply her as the most endeared relative of thy dying Lord. I have no
property to leave, no silver or gold to distribute: this is my fond and my
only bequest. I have confidence in thy attachment, and when thou dost
minister to _her_ thou wilt remember _me_."

From this exquisitely touching and instructive scene we must take a lesson
of _dependence on the providence of God_. If he inflict unexpected trials,
he affords unexpected supplies. His resources are numberless; and he who
raised up John to supply the place of an endeared Son to Mary, can never
be at loss for expedients when his people are in distress. One prop is
removed, another is substituted. "O fear the Lord, all ye his saints, for
there is no want to them that fear him." Earthly cisterns may indeed be
broken, and temporal streams of enjoyment may cease, but "the fountain of
living waters" is inexhaustible.

Take a lesson _of filial piety_. Children are under an indispensable
obligation to succour their aged parents. If amidst the agonies of
crucifixion, Jesus so carefully provided for the future comfort of his
maternal parent, be assured "he has set an _example_ wherein we should
follow his steps;" and disrespect to such claims is a dereliction of our
character, and a forfeiture of our profession as the disciples of Christ.

Learn to _be prompt in your obedience to every requisition of your Lord_.
It is an honour to be employed by him in any service, whatever it may cost
us. John did not hesitate, or indulge in surmisings; he did not think of
the trouble, the expense, or the possible danger of harbouring the mother
of one who was executed as an enemy to Cesar; but "from that hour that
disciple took her unto his own home." If the sacred history had followed
him to his lowly habitation, where our imaginations are ready to accompany
John and his venerable charge, it would doubtless have exhibited a
specimen of tender friendship and unwearied assiduity. What could John
deny to the mother of his Lord? How eagerly would he promote her comfort!
What "sweet converse" would they "hold together" upon the life, the
miracles, the doctrines, the precepts, the death of Jesus! What a gleam of
light and joy would the remembrance of one so dear throw upon the darkest
scene of their lives, and how would the glory of his subsequent
ascension, and dignity in the invisible world, occupy their daily
intercourse and their most devotional moments! "The sweet hour of prime,"
and the serenity of "evening mild," and "twilight gray," would still find
them amidst the wonders of the cross or the triumphs of the resurrection.

Nothing more is said of Mary till we come to the Acts of the Apostles,
where a brief but honourable notice closes her history. In an upper room
at Jerusalem "abode Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and
Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon
Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James. These all continued with one
accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and _Mary, the mother
of Jesus_, and with his brethren."

It is supposed that John took her with him to Ephesus, where she died in
an extreme old age. There is a letter of the oecumenical council of
Ephesus, importing, that in the fifth century it was believed she was
buried there; but some authors think she was buried at Jerusalem.

Section IV.

Brief Account of the extravagant Regard which has been paid to the
Virgin Mary at different Periods--the Names by which she has been
addressed, and the Festivals instituted to honour her Memory--general
Remarks on the Nature and Character of Superstition, particularly that
of the Catholics.

After reviewing, as we have done in the preceding pages, the _facts_
which are stated by the evangelists respecting the life of the mother of
Jesus, the reader perhaps will not be displeased if he be presented with
some of the _fictions_ with which the fancy and the folly of the human
race have combined to embellish her history. That she has a claim upon the
respect of every age and nation, will not be disputed: but we must condemn
as well as compassionate that weakness which has exalted her into an
object of worship, and filled the temples, which ought to have been
devoted to the service of God, with unauthorized addresses, unscriptural
rites, and idolatrous disfigurements.

The first notice we have in history of undue honour being rendered to the
Virgin Mary is about the close of the fourth century, when the
_Collyridians_ adored her as a goddess; and by various libations and
sacrifices sought her protection, and hoped to avert her displeasure.

Soon after this period corruptions multiplied in the church to an
extravagant degree, and mankind departed more and more from the simplicity
of religion. A disposition to pomp and parade usually marks a decline in
piety; for wherever "the beauty of holiness" is preserved, gaudy
decorations and splendid formalities will be deemed unnecessary. Surely
God is not honoured by a service which he has never instituted, and which
is only calculated to divert the mind from the proper business of devotion
and the supreme object of religious homage! In the fifth century,
therefore, as piety languished, magnificence, with all her costly train,
obtruded into notice. The riches of the church increased to an amazing
extent; the altars, and chests for the preservation of relics, were made
of silver; images adorned, or rather defiled, every niche; and the Virgin
Mary, holding the child Jesus in her arms, every where occupied a
conspicuous place. She had, besides, universally acquired the title of
Θεοτουος, or _mother of God_, which occasioned the Nestorian

The idolatrous service of Mary assumed, in the tenth century, new forms of
extravagance and absurdity. Among the Latin churches, masses were
celebrated every sabbath; and afterward, what is termed the _lesser
office_ was performed in honour of St. Mary. There are also indications of
the institution of the _Rosary_ and _Crown_, by which her worshippers were
to calculate the number of prayers offered: the former consisted of
fifteen repetitions of the Lord's prayer, and a hundred and fifty
salutations of the Virgin: the latter, of six or seven repetitions of the
Lord's prayer, and six or seven times ten salutations, or Ave Marias.

About the year 1138 a solemn festival was instituted to celebrate the
immaculate conception of the Virgin, of whom it was pretended, that her
own birth partook of a similar purity to that which attached to her divine
offspring. This doctrine was opposed by St. Bernard; but the French
churches adopted it, and the superstition of the people contributed to its
establishment. The subject was again debated with extreme virulence in the
seventeenth century, between the Franciscans and Dominicans, in which the
pope interposed a mediatorial power. The opinion of the former, who
maintained the doctrine, was declared to have a high degree of probability
in its favour, and the latter were required not to oppose it publicly;
while the Franciscans were prohibited from treating the Dominican doctrine
as erroneous. [20]

It is lamentable to see the profusion of eloquence and ingenuity which
some of the most penetrating minds have expended on this subject. In all
the Catholic writings we meet with impassioned addresses to the Virgin,
appeals on her behalf to the feelings of piety, and a frequent celebration
of her matchless perfections. The theological oracle of the French church
distinctly states that "as the innocence of Jesus Christ is the life and
salvation of sinners, so, through the innocence of the holy Virgin, he
obtains pardon for the guilty," exhorting his hearers to "cleanse away
their sins in the glorious splendour of her incorruptible purity," and
adding, that "to undertake to describe the perfections of Mary, would be
to fathom a bottomless abyss."

After representing the Saviour as making particular choice of Mary for
himself, Bossuet bestows upon her the epithets of _beloved creature,
extraordinary creature, unique and privileged creature_; and continues
thus: "The Saviour imparted to his apostles and ministers whatever was
most adapted to promote the salvation of mankind; but he communicated to
his holy mother whatever was most pleasing, most glorious, and most
delightful to himself; consequently, I doubt not that he made Mary
innocent. She is his unique, and he is hers. _Dilectus meus mihi et ego
illi_ ('my beloved is mine and I am his.') I have only him, and he has
only me." I know well that innocence ought not to be easily lavished on
our corrupt nature, but it is no profuse expenditure to bestow it upon his
mother only: while to refuse to her would surely be too great a reserve.

"No, my brethren, this is not my Saviour's conduct: on Mary, from the
moment of her birth, I behold the innocence of Jesus Christ shining and
adorning her head. O honour this new ray of light which her divine Son
already sheds upon her! 'The night is far spent, the day is at hand;'
Jesus will quickly bring this day by his own blessed presence. O happy
day! O day without cloud! O day, which the innocence of the divine Jesus
will render so serene and pure, when wilt thou come to illuminate the
world?--Christians, it approaches; let us rejoice in already discovering
its dawn in the birth of the holy Virgin--_Natâ Virgine surrexit aurora_,
says the pious father Damien. Can you be astonished after this, if I
assert that Mary was without spot from the first moment of her appearance
in the world? As the great day of Christ was to be so clear and splendid,
was it not proper that even its commencement should be beautiful, and that
the serenity of the morning should indicate that of the day? 'It is on
this account,' as father Damien observes, 'that Mary, who introduced this
illustrious day diffused a brightness over the morning by her
nativity--_Maria, veri proevia luminis, nativitate suâ mane clarissimum
serenavit_.' Hasten then, brethren, hasten with joy to behold the
beginnings of this new day: we shall see it shine in the attractive light
of an untarnished purity!"......_Bossuet's Sermon_.

Bossuet had sufficient ingenuity to construct a plausible defence of a
sentiment which, however adapted to supply a theme for eloquent
declamation, is not to be found in Scripture. "It must be admitted," says
he, "that Mary would have been involved in the general ruin of mankind,
had not the merciful Physician who heals our diseases determined to imbue
her beforehand with his preventing grace. Sin, which like a torrent
overflowed the world, would have polluted this holy Virgin with its
poisonous waves; but Omnipotence can stop, whenever he pleases, the most
impetuous force. Observe with what ardour the sun pursues the vast circuit
which Providence has assigned him; and yet you cannot be ignorant that God
once caused him to stand still in the midst of heaven at the voice of a
man. Those who inhabit the vicinity of Jordan, the celebrated river of
Palestine, know with what rapidity it discharges itself into the Dead Sea,
if I am correct as to the place; nevertheless, the whole Israelitish army
saw it roll back to its source to form a passage for the ark, where their
omnipotent Sovereign resided. Is any thing more natural than the consuming
effect of heat in fire issuing out of a furnace? And yet was not the
impious Nebuchadnezzar surprised with the sight of three happy individuals
rejoicing in the midst of the flames which his merciless minions had
kindled--but kindled in vain? But notwithstanding all these examples, may
we not truly say, that there is no fire which does not burn, that the sun
performs his course with unceasing progress, and that no river flows back
to its source? We are accustomed to a similar mode of speaking every day,
without being checked by these extraordinary occurrences, of which no one
is ignorant. Whence does this arise, Christians? Doubtless from the habit
of conversing according to the ordinary course of things; though God
chooses sometimes to act conformably to the dictates of his own
omnipotence, independently of human notions.

"I am not astonished, therefore, that the apostle Paul has expressed
himself in such general terms respecting the sin of our first parents'
having occasioned the death of all their posterity. According the natural
course of things, which the apostle is stating in that place, to be born
of the race of Adam necessarily includes, in the ordinary sense of the
word, being born in sin. It is not more natural for fire to burn, than for
this accursed depravity to infect every one it touches with corruption and
death. No poison is more active, no plague more powerful and penetrating.
But I maintain, that this curse, however universal, that all these
propositions, however general they may be, do not preclude the exceptions
which may be made by the Supreme Disposer, or particular interpositions of
his authority. And on what occasion, great God, could thine unlimited
power, which itself is law, be more properly employed than in conferring
peculiar favour upon Mary?" [21]

In the Litanies the Virgin is denominated "the Mother of God, the Queen of
Angels, the Refuge of Sinners, the Mother of Mercy, the Gate of Heaven,
the Mystic Rose, the Virgin of Virgins," &c. [22]

Father Barry, in his "Paradise opened to Philagia by a hundred Devotions
to the Mother of God, of easy performance," says, "It is open to such as
confine themselves to their chambers, or carry about them an image of the
Virgin, and look steadfastly upon it--who, night and morning, beg her
benediction, standing near some of the churches dedicated to her, or
contribute to the relief of the poor for her sake--who, out of a pious
regard for her, avoid pronouncing the name of Mary when they read, but
make use of some other instead of it--who beg of the angels to salute the
mother of God in their name, who give honourable appellations to her
images, and cast amorous glances at them," &c.

In this work it is expressly stated, that "as many separate devotions to
the mother of God as you find in this book, are so many keys of heaven,
which will open all paradise to you, provided you only practise them;" and
afterward it is added, that "any _one_ of them is sufficient." Take the
following specimen: "Salute the holy Virgin wherever you meet her image;
repeat the little chaplet of the ten pleasures of the Virgin; often
pronounce the name of _Mary_; commission the angels to give your duty to
her; cherish a desire to build more churches to her than all the kings of
the world put together; wish her a good day every morning, and a good
night every evening; say the _Ave Maria_ every day, in honour of the heart
of Mary." [23]

In the earliest ages she was called Queen of angels and Mother of God;
afterward, the spirit of controversy induced her advocates to adopt every
possible device to make her considerable among heretics, and to accustom
her devotees to extravagant expressions. She has been represented as the
_disposer and depository of God's favours, the treasurer and queen of
heaven, the spring and fountain of salvation and life, the mother of
light, the intercessor between God and man, the hope of mankind, the ocean
of the Deity_! Almost an absolute and sovereign power over her Son our
Saviour has been ascribed to her. The psalter, nay the whole Bible, has
been applied to her, and proofs by miracles and apparitions furnished,
that the virgin appeases the wrath of Christ against sinners, and
possesses the power of absolving, binding, and loosening. Temples and
altars have been erected, and invocations addressed to her.

The Jesuit, who published the Psalter of our Lady, in French, exhorts the
devout Christian who pronounces these words in the introduction, _Holy
Lady, open thou my lips_, &c. "to make two signs of the cross when he
repeats them, one upon his lips with his thumb, and the other upon himself
with his hand, as the priests do when they begin their canonical hours."
This method, he assures us, will procure the devotee the honour and
happiness of being canon or canoness of heaven; and our lady, to reward so
conspicuous and instructive an act of devotion, will admit him into
paradise. He gives a pattern of the vows which the devotee is to make "for
Jesus and Mary's sake, and for all the lovers of them both, whether male
or female." He describes the alliance to be made by him with the _most
amiable and honourable mother of all mothers_, the act of repentance and
contrition for the reconciliation of himself with her, and all the
ceremonies, great and small, by which he may devote himself to the
blessed Virgin.

Whoever hopes to obtain the benedictions of the Virgin, must salute her
every day, both at his going out and coming in. The legends have
transmitted several remarkable instances of the advantages arising from
the repetition of the _Ave Maria_--not to mention a thousand day's
indulgence granted by some of the popes (Leo X. and Paul V.) to those who
shall repeat it at the hour of the _Angelus_.

St. Margarite, of Hungary, said an Ave kneeling before every image of the
Virgin she met in her way--St. Catharine, of Sienna, repeated as many Aves
as she went up steps to her house.

Fasting on _Saturday_, in honour of the Virgin, is looked upon as a
treasure of indulgences and delights, and as an excellent preservative
against eternal damnation.

Various festivals are instituted to commemorate her, such as the
Purification, the Annunciation, the Visitation, and others.

The fifth of August is the festival of _our Lady of the Snow_. We are
informed that the solemnization of it was owing to a miracle. When
Liberius was pontiff, a patrician, or Roman nobleman, finding himself old
and childless, resolved, with his wife's approbation, to make the blessed
Virgin his sole heiress. The vow being made with great devotion, their
principal concern, in the next place, was to employ their inheritance
conformably to our Lady's will: and accordingly they applied themselves to
fasting, praying, giving alms to the poor, and visiting the sick, to know
her pleasure.

The Virgin at length appeared to each of them in a dream, and told them
"it was her and her Son's will, that they should employ their effects in
erecting a church for her on a particular part of the _Mons Esquilinus_,
which they should find covered with snow." The pious husband first
communicated the revelation to his wife, who told him, with great
surprise, that she had had the same revelation that very night. But,
supposing the two dreams had not proved alike, an excess of zeal would
have been sufficient to have given them all the _conformity_ that was
requisite; These two devotees went immediately and declared their dreams
to the pope, who perceived that he was a third man in the revelation; for
his holiness had been favoured with the same vision. It was no longer
questioned, but that heaven was engaged in this affair. The pontiff
assembled the clergy together, and there was a solemn procession to Mount
Esquiline, on purpose to find out whether the miracle were real or not;
when the place specified in the dream was found covered with snow. The
ground was exactly of a suitable extent to erect a church upon, which was
afterward called _Liberius's Basilica_, and _St. Mary ad præcepe_,
(because the manger, which was used as a cradle for our Lady, was brought
thither from Bethlehem,) and is now called _St. Mary Major_. Every
festival day, the commemoration of this miracle is revived, by letting
fall white jessamine leaves, after so artificial a manner, as to imitate
the falling of snow upon the ground. [24]

It has even been asserted, that the apostle Peter consecrated a chapel to
the Virgin, a story which accords perfectly well with other absurdities.
The Spaniards attribute a similar act of devotion to James at _Saragossa_;
and some add, that the angels were the architects of the chapel. It is
decorated in the most costly manner with silver angels, lamps, and other
furniture, with the Virgin magnificently dressed on a marble pillar. The
walls are hung with feet, arms, hands, and other parts of the human body,
as grateful oblations to the Virgin, for the miraculous cures she is
supposed to have performed upon these members.

At _Madrid_, our lady of Atocha resides in a chapel which blazes with a
hundred lamps made of gold and silver, and is celebrated for as many
miracles as at Loretto and other places. The history of her first
settlement at _Liesse_, in Picardy, is thus related. During the crusades,
an Egyptian princess resolving to have an image of the Virgin, addressed
herself to three gentlemen of Picardy, who were prisoners at Cairo, one of
whom made an attempt to paint her, though ignorant of the art. Having
failed, he and his companions presented earnest supplications to the
Virgin, after which they fell asleep. As soon as they awoke, they found
an image of our Lady, accurately performed, which they transmitted to the
princess; who, in return, set them at liberty. She was, of course,
converted to the Christian faith by this image; and the three gentlemen
miraculously escaped out of Egypt, and on a sudden found themselves, by a
continuation of the miracle, in Picardy, on the very spot where the church
of _our Lady of Liesse_ is now erected.

Her devotees carry representations of the Virgin about them, deck her
images with flowers, dress them in silks or other costly ornaments, burn
tapers before them, kiss and look upon them with a languishing eye, touch
them with their chaplets, rub their handkerchiefs upon them, and salute
them with the profoundest veneration.

Her relics are innumerable--such as her wedding ring, handkerchiefs,
combs, slippers and goods of every description, as kitchen furniture,
toilette, earthenware, lamps; and even, as it is pretended, her gloves,
bed, chair, head-clothes, with other rarities.

"Surely," says archbishop Tillotson, "if this _blessed among women, the
mother of our Lord_, (for I keep to the titles which the Scripture gives
her,) have any sense of what we do here below, she cannot but look down
with the greatest disdain upon that sacrilegious and idolatrous worship
which is paid to her, to the high dishonour of the great God and our
Saviour, and the infinite scandal of his religion. How can she, without
indignation, behold how they play the fool in the church of Rome about
her; what an idol they make of her image, and with what sottishness they
give divine honour to it; how they place her in their idolatrous pictures
in equal rank with the blessed Trinity, and turn the salutation of the
angel, _Ave Maria, hail Mary, full of grace_, into a kind of prayer; and,
in their bead-roll of devotion, repeat it ten times, for once that they
say the Lord's prayer, as of greater virtue and efficacy? And, indeed,
they almost justle out the devotion due to Almighty God and our blessed
Saviour, by their endless idolatry to her.

"So that the greater part of their religion, both public and private, is
made up of that which was no part at all of the religion of the apostles
and primitive Christians; nay, which plainly contradicts it: for that
expressly teacheth us, that there is but one object of our prayers, and
one Mediator by whom we are to make our addresses to God. 'There is one
God, and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus,' says St.
Paul, when he gives a standing rule concerning prayer in the Christian
church. And yet, notwithstanding all the care that our blessed Saviour and
his apostles could take to prevent gross idolatry of the blessed mother of
our Lord, how blindly and wilfully have the church of Rome run into it!
and, in despite of the clearest evidence and conviction, do obstinately
and impudently persist in it, and justify themselves in so abominable a

In the homage rendered to the Virgin Mary by the Catholics, the servility
of superstition appears blended with the zeal of enthusiasm. Having
departed from Scripture, that only light which shines upon the path of
obedience, and conducts to God, they naturally lose themselves amidst the
perplexities of error and the mazes of falsehood: it need not, therefore,
occasion surprise though their course should be eccentric, or their
conduct preposterous. The passions being chiefly engaged in this service,
and kept in exercise by fear or fondness, reason retires; and imagination,
supported by these auxiliaries, sways the sceptre. The absurdities,
however, to which under such circumstances the human mind becomes
addicted, would seem utterly unaccountable, were it not for the gradual
manner of their influence. The victory over judgment and common sense is
not secured at a blow, but by perpetual insinuation. The hopes or fears of
mankind are wrought upon _individually_ from the period of infancy, long
previous to the age when reason attains its vigour and maturity,--and
_nationally_ by a slow and almost insensible accumulation of frivolous or
ridiculous observances from century to century. A natural consciousness of
weakness renders man the dupe of deception, and an equal sense of guilt
makes him the slave of terror. Hence he readily avails himself of every
means which he fancies capable of alleviating his anxieties, and in his
eagerness to escape the wretchedness of apprehension or the suffering of
evil, flies to unscriptural resources.

The pre-eminence of man over the brute creation arises chiefly from his
capacity of knowing God and serving him in the appointed exercises of
religion; and yet the perversion of this capacity, by the invention of
superstitious ceremonies, has rendered him utterly contemptible. In the
services of real piety, he appears elevated to the summit of creation, his
nature seems ennobled, and his character encircled with glory; but, in the
practices of superstition, he is degraded to the lowest depth of meanness
of which an intellectual and immortal being is capable. By the former he
soars to "glory, honour, and immortality;" by the latter he sinks to
wretchedness and ruin. In the one case he is useful and happy; in the
other, inactive, isolated, and full of disquietude; and thus either rises
into grandeur or falls into littleness,--is an angel or a brute!

Whoever reviews the several religious errors of the Pagan, Jewish, and
Christian communities, will admit, that the history of superstition
constitutes one of the most offensive pages in the annals of mankind; he
will see the object of worship misrepresented, the universe partitioned
into petty sovereignties, and Deity divided, contracted, and localized;
religion turned into mockery, and mockery into religion.

It is somewhat difficult to trace the operations and to ascertain the true
character of superstition, although it has prevailed so extensively in the
world, and produced such extraordinary effects. Amongst other anomalies,
this is observable, that it not only has led captive weak and ignorant
minds, which being unable to detect a specious sophism, or to depart from
a general practice, may easily be supposed incapable of resisting its
fascination; but it has been known to seduce and enchain some of the
noblest orders of intellect, and the most cultivated of human
understandings. Whole nations and successive generations have been
subjected to its influence, furnishing ample evidence of that statement,
which, if it be not repeated in every page of Scripture, lies at the
foundation of all its truths; and into which many of the peculiarities of
this principle may be resolved: "The world by wisdom knew not God."

Superstition is unquestionably founded in mean and absurd ideas of the
moral attributes of the Deity, which produce corresponding actions, and in
assigning to him an arbitrary character, deriving pleasure from what has
no connexion with the happiness of the worshipper. A consistent and
dignified conduct can only result from a just estimate of the divine
perfections, and a correct view of moral obligation. The worship we render
to a superior being, must necessarily be shaped and regulated by our
conceptions of the nature of God; consequently, mankind will degenerate
into error and folly, proportionate to their departure from the
representations of Scripture respecting the spirituality of his essence.

To this source may be traced especially the principles and practices of
the Romish church, in which reason is outraged, religion caricatured, and
God dishonoured. Transubstantiation is a doctrine manifestly absurd and
impious; and the practice of presenting those supplications to dead
saints, which the Supreme Being alone can hear and answer, is no less
ridiculous, as well as subversive of true piety. Perhaps, however, no
deviation from common sense is more remarkable than those extravagancies
of the Catholics which respect the Virgin Mary; and yet these have not
only been practised by the multitude, but defended by men of learning with
the utmost subtlety and the warmest zeal. In fact, she has been praised by
every Catholic pen for ages; and every term that language could supply has
been put in requisition to extol her merits.

Let the view we have given of these misstatements excite us to
self-examination, in order that we may discover any incorrectness or
deficiency in our own apprehensions of religion, and become vigilant over
those errors into which we may be apt to deviate. It will be studying man
to some purpose, if the better we are acquainted with the history of the
human mind, the greater the circumspection we exercise over ourselves. We
shall then be less imposed upon by the speciousness of falsehood, and less
betrayed by the weakness of our passions; we shall be led to "present our
bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God," and feel that it is
our "_reasonable service_."


Chapter II.

The angelic Appearance to Zacharias--Birth of John--Characters of
Elizabeth and Zacharias--Importance of domestic Union being founded on
Religion, shown in them--their venerable Age--the characteristic
Features of their Piety--the Happiness of a Life like theirs--the Effect
it is calculated to produce on others--the Perpetuation of holy
friendship through immortal Ages--the miserable Condition of the

Obscure as were the circumstances in which Christ appeared, Infinite
Wisdom saw fit to furnish miraculous attestations to his character and
mission. This evidence attended him during the whole of his career,
investing him with a heavenly glory, and rendering his pre-eminence
distinctly visible to the eye of faith, notwithstanding his assumed

It was in unison with this scheme of Providence to send the most exalted
of angelic beings to announce the birth of Messiah, and to prepare the
minds of Mary his mother, of the shepherds who were to circulate the
intelligence, and of others more nearly or more remotely interested in the
event, by celestial visitations. For similar reasons it comported with the
nature of this wonderful event, to attach something peculiar and even
miraculous to the birth of his precursor, whose destined office it should
be to "prepare the way of the Lord," by uttering his "voice in the
wilderness," and intimating to mankind the mighty transformations about to
be effected in the moral state of the world. Six months, therefore,
previously to the annunciation to Mary, the angel Gabriel descended to
proclaim "glad tidings" to Zacharias. In the performance of his customary
service as a priest, he had gone into the temple to burn incense, while
the people were praying without the holy place. On a sudden, he perceived
an angel standing on the right side of the altar, and became exceedingly
agitated, till the benevolent spirit addressed him in affectionate and
congratulatory terms. Ah! _they_ have no reason to dread a message from
the world of spirits, or to be filled with apprehensions at the sight of
other orders of beings than those with which they are conversant, who are
engaged in the discharge of their duties, and live under the influence of
religion! However new or extraordinary such revelations, they never could
have been real causes of alarm to the servants of God; and were they not
at present suspended, in consequence of the completion of the intended
communications of truth to mankind, piety ought rather to welcome than to
dread them.

Zacharias was assured that his prayer was heard, and that his wife
Elizabeth should have a son to be named John. As a sign of the
accomplishment of this prediction, and as a chastisement of the doubt with
which the message was at first received, he was struck with dumbness,
which continued only till the birth of his child.

The interview between Elizabeth and Mary, the mother of our Lord, has been
already adverted to in the preceding narrative, where the salutations of
these favoured relatives were recited. At the expiration of the appointed
time, Elizabeth bare a son whom they would have called after the name of
Zacharias, but his mother interposed; and the affair being finally
referred to his father, he wrote, to the general astonishment of their
neighbours and relatives, who had remonstrated in vain, "His name is
John." Immediately his speech was restored, and he broke out in
impassioned strains of praise: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he
hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of
salvation for us in the house of his servant David; as he spake by the
mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: that we
should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy
covenant; the oath which he sware to our father Abraham, that he would
grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him,
all the days of our life. And thou, child, shall be called the prophet of
the Highest: for thou shall go before the face of the Lord to prepare his
ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of
their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the day-spring
from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."

Reverting to the commencement of this history by the evangelist Luke, we
shall be led to notice the domestic characters of Zacharias and Elizabeth,
particularly as they illustrate the excellence of a life of piety. While
religion adorns every station, it teaches us to fulfil every relative
duty; and acting under its influence, a person becomes a light in the
world, diffusing through the family, the social circle, and the more
extended sphere of busy life, a mild and beneficent radiance.

Our attention is first directed to the office of Zacharias, and the
descent of his wife. He was a _priest_, and she "of the daughters of
Aaron." The world affords too many evidences, that piety is neither
created by station, nor hereditary in its transmission. As Zacharias was a
minister of the sanctuary, it was both to be _desired_ and _expected_ that
he should not approach the altar with a hardened and unsanctified heart.
"Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? and who shall stand in his
holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart; who hath not lift
up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the
blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation."
Yet, alas! it is not always to be presumed that real religion accompanies
either the brightest profession or the most dignified office! Korah,
Dathan, and Abiram, offered "strange fire," Judas betrayed the Son of God,
and Paul expresses an apprehension "lest, having preached to others," he
should himself "be a castaway." The admonition, therefore, of God by
Isaiah is appropriate and striking: "Be ye clean that bear the vessels of
the Lord." It is possible to be a preacher of righteousness, and yet a
child of Satan--a priest, and yet a demon--a worker of miracles, and yet a
"worker of iniquity:" but a pleasing exception to this remark occurs in
the history of Zacharias, who was "a _priest_, and _righteous_ before
God." His _office_ and his _character_ accorded, and the light of his
example shone with unclouded brightness and attractive glory.

It is observable, that Elizabeth, the wife of this holy priest, was
equally distinguished with himself for a sincere and active piety. "They
were BOTH righteous before God;" and it was their privilege to live at
that eventful moment when the clouds that obscured the past dispensations
of Providence were tinged with the rising glory of the day which was just
breaking upon the nations of the earth, and which lighted these pilgrims
home to their eternal rest. They were some of the last of the Jewish and
the first of the Christian economy, and their life seemed to form the
bright line which bordered the typical ages and those of unshadowed truth
and Christian revelation.

Zacharias and Elizabeth exhibit an attractive picture of union both
natural and religious; the hymenial tie was intertwined with celestial
roses, which diffused a fragrance over domestic life; their love to each
other was strengthened and sanctified by their love to God.

The perfection of conjugal felicity with every good man depends upon the
existence of similar religious principles and feelings with those which
influence himself in the partner of his life; consequently, it will ever
be his concern "to marry in the Lord." No language can express the
bitterness of that pang which rends his heart when a dissimilarity of
taste prevails in so important an affair. It is a worm for ever gnawing
the root of his peace, and will prevent its growth even under the
brightest sun of worldly prosperity. Let those especially who are forming
connections in life, and who "love Christ in sincerity," reflect on the
fatal consequences of devoting their affections to such as can never
accompany them to the house of God but with reluctance, or to the throne
of grace but with weariness and aversion. If the object of your fondest
regard be an unbeliever, what a cloud will darken your serenest days, what
unutterable grief disturb your otherwise peaceful sabbaths! Your pleasures
and your pains of a religious kind, which are the most intense, will be
equally unparticipated. You must walk alone in those ways of pleasantness
which would be still more endeared by such sweet society; and you must
suffer the keenest sorrows of the heart--_perhaps_ without daring to name
them, and _certainly_ without one tear, one word, one look of soothing
sympathy. How could you endure it that the very wife of your bosom should
manifest the temper of those assassins that murdered your Lord, while in
the exercise of a lively faith you hailed him as "the chief among ten
thousand, and altogether lovely?" Would it not agonize your heart that she
should be _indifferent_ only, not to say inimical, towards him in whom you
daily "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory?"

In proportion to the wretchedness of such circumstances must be the
felicity of the reverse, of which this narrative furnishes a pleasing
exemplification. Zacharias and Elizabeth were _both_ righteous, and this
union of spirit diffused a holy and gladdening radiance over all the
scenes of life. In the family, in the social circle, in the house of God,
they were ONE. Together they could bow the knee at the throne of grace,
together go up to the temple! The grief or the joy of one was the grief or
the joy of both; they could sing the same song, unite in the same prayer,
feast on the same spiritual food! This was the perfection of love--this
was the triumph of friendship! No contrary current of feeling on either
side ruffled the pure stream of domestic and religious pleasure, but it
flowed along in a clear, noiseless, and perpetual course. In this case the
language of David might be applied with emphatic propriety: "Behold, how
good and pleasant a thing it is to dwell together in unity."

Elizabeth and her partner were "both well stricken in years." There is
something venerable in hoary age, especially when adorned with the graces
of the Spirit. The mind reposes with peculiar complacency on those who,
having long "adorned the doctrines of God their Saviour in all things,"
are waiting quietly and confidently for their admission to heaven. They
can see the shadows of the evening deepen upon them without a sigh; and
while death is unlocking the doors of their appointed house, can sing,
"Thanks be to God, that giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus
Christ." While the mind of a wicked man, in the near prospect of
dissolution, is filled with distraction, and "a fearful looking for of
judgment--while his

"------frantic soul
Raves round the walls of her clay tenement,
Flies to each avenue, and cries for help--
But cries in vain;------"

conscious that he is the enemy of God, the abhorrence of saints; the
confederate, and will soon become the companion, of evil spirits; the
dying Christian looks beyond the confines of mortality into the eternal
world, without one sensation but that "of a desire to depart and to be
with Christ." In quitting the present world, he expects a transition from
sorrow to joy--from the region of shadows to that of realities--from the
habitations of sin to the abodes of purity. Embracing Jesus by faith, he
exclaims with Simeon, "Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for
mine eyes have seen thy salvation;" or with Paul, "I have fought a good
fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth is
laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous
Judge, shall give me in that day."

It is pleasing to see the youthful mind impressed with the concerns of
religion, devoting its powers to the Saviour, and despising the
solicitations of sinful pleasure; but ah! how many cloudless mornings are
succeeded by gloomy days--how many false and fruitless blossoms adorn the
smiling spring--how many seeds spring up, but perish because they have "no
depth of earth!" Early piety, therefore, however gratifying, cannot be
contemplated without anxiety, if not suspicion; the force of temptation
has not yet been endured--the world has not half exhausted its quiver of
poisoned arrows--Satan has not yet tried all his arts and
machinations--the race is not yet run!--but in those who, like Zacharias
and Elizabeth, are "well striken in years," we witness the stability of
principle, the triumph of perseverance, and the reign of grace. Dear and
venerable companions in the ways of God, ye have borne the burden and heat
of the day! Like a shock of corn, ye shall soon be "gathered in your
season;" ye shall soon drop the infirmities of humanity, and be clothed in
the robes of light! "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they
may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates
into the city."

The brief, but comprehensive notice of these venerable saints, in the
commencement of the Gospel according to Luke, exhibits at once the
characteristic features of their piety.

1. It was of a quality approved by God himself: for they are represented
as "righteous _before God_," that is, in the divine estimation. It is
this only which can determine our genuine character; for, however
"outwardly virtuous _before men_," the internal spirit and character may
be marked by moral deformities which the eye of Omniscience cannot but
view with detestation. The most eminent Christians, indeed, are aware that
perfection in righteousness is not attainable in the present state, and
that when "weighed in the balances," they are in many respects "found
wanting:" but while they look for acceptance through the righteousness of
Christ, instead of "going about to establish their own," they possess a
rectitude of _principle_, though the _degree_ of holiness be imperfect.
They are sincere, habitual in their aim to please God, cherishing a
supreme attachment to his name and character, and determined in their
resistance of every influence that would seduce them from his service or
impel them to commit sin.

2. Elizabeth and her venerable partner regulated their conduct by divine
authority, irrespective of the opinions of men. They are said to "have
walked in the _commandments and ordinances of the Lord_." The Jews were
accustomed to blend the traditions of the elders with their religious
services; but these believers consulted and obeyed the oracles of Heaven.
They repaired at once to the spring-head of wisdom, deriving their faith
and obtaining direction with regard to their practice from Him who alone
possesses the authority of a master.

This was a very decisive evidence of their religion, and is a test which
is capable of being applied to every case and to every sphere of life. If
the only certain evidence of true piety consisted in becoming martyrs, few
could have an opportunity of evincing it, through not being called to this
high and holy service; or, if the test were the distribution of ample
charities, or self-devotement to the labour of the Christian ministry, the
poor, and the ungifted, and ineloquent, would be excluded from the
prescribed means of testifying their love to God: but obedience to his
commands may be practised in the humblest circumstances, in the lowliest
station, and by the most obscure individual. Any where and every where it
is possible "to take up our cross," to "deny ourselves," to "mortify the
flesh," to "walk in the Spirit."

3. The obedience of Elizabeth and Zacharias was universal--not partial or
restricted; for they "walked in _all_ the commandments and ordinances of
the Lord."

An insincere profession will be distinguished by partiality in its
observances. It will practise some duties and reject others, believe some
doctrines and hesitate to admit others. Influenced by many subordinate
considerations, it will select those requirements which are most easily
performed, most calculated to attract public attention, or most
conformable to natural prepossessions. It will dispense with some things
as difficult, and with others as unnecessary or unimportant. "Then,"
exclaimed the Psalmist, "shall I not be ashamed when I have respect unto
_all_ thy commandments."

4. Elizabeth and her aged companion were distinguished also for a piety
which was _blameless_. It is possible to merit blame even in our very acts
of religious obedience. How seldom do we attain that purity of _motive_,
that unostentatious simplicity of _manner_, that _uniformity_ of conduct,
which constitute a _blameless_ piety! In this respect we have daily
reason, at the footstool of mercy, to deplore our deficiency, our lanquor,
our lukewarmness of spirit, our unprofitableness and vileness. "If thou,
Lord, wert strict to mark iniquity, O Lord, who could stand?" There is not
a prayer we utter but would be rejected, were it not for the prevalence
of the Redeemer's intercession, nor a service we perform, but is so
defiled with guilt that it would be an abominable offering, but for the
efficacy of that blood which "cleanseth us from all sin." Nor, indeed, was
the piety of Zacharias and Elizabeth in itself "_blameless_," irrespective
of this atonement; nor were they "_righteous_," but as accepted and
justified "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." To a lively
faith they, however, united a holy conversation, and an habitual
obedience: their life was a perpetual sacrifice to God, and diffused
around a sweet savour of piety.

Let us contemplate the _happiness of such a life_. It is common to
represent religion as incompatible with true enjoyment, and to describe
those who are under its influence as gloomy fanatics, dragging out a
miserable existence--the dupes of prejudice and the slaves of melancholy.
If a perpetual sense of the divine presence, a well-founded confidence of
pardoned sin, free access to the throne of mercy, abundant communications
of spiritual good and lively anticipations of a felicity beyond the grave,
commensurate with the capacities of an immortal spirit, and with the
everlasting ages of eternity; if these produce wretchedness, then, and in
no other case, is religion a source of misery. Be not deceived; such
allegations result from ignorance and depravity. Zacharias and Elizabeth,
joined together by the dear bonds of mutual affection, and the still
dearer ties of grace, present a picture of happiness unrivalled in the gay
and thoughtless world. We appeal to them, and to those who resemble them,
as "epistles" of God, that teach the efficacy of genuine religion. Read
them, ye profane, and blush for your impieties! Read them, ye sons and
daughters of strife, and banish discord from your houses! Read them, ye
fearful, hesitating, lukewarm professors, and learn to walk in "_all_ the
commandments and ordinances of the Lord!" Read them, ye worldly wise, ye
ambitious, ye "lovers of pleasure," and confess ye have mistaken the true
means to happiness, and have "forsaken your own mercies!"

It is a supereminent excellence of the religion of Jesus, that "the peace
and joy in believing" which it inspires do not depend on external
circumstances. As no worldly condition can _create_, so neither can it
_destroy_ the Christian's felicity; it is firm and immoveable amidst the
changes and revolutions of human affairs--in the bright or cloudy day.
Like the mariner's compass, which continually points in the same direction
amidst changing seasons and varying climes, the most extraordinary
vicissitudes of the "present evil world," cannot "move" the mind of a
believer from the "hope of the Gospel."

Reflect further, on the _effect which such a life is calculated to produce
on others_.

A holy life is a powerful argument for the "truth as it is in Jesus;" and
that suspicious eagerness with which the wicked watch the conduct of
professors, that patient malignity with which they wait for their halting,
and that Satanic joy with which they exult over their misconduct, prove
their own convictions of the strength of such an argument. Let us then be
concerned to falsify their predictions and disappoint their enmity by
"walking in _all_ the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless."
Consider the impressive appeal of the apostle: "Only let your conversation
be as becometh the gospel of Christ." Shine, ye professing Christians, for
"ye are the lights of the world"--shine with a holy and steady radiance in
the church of God, and pray for daily supplies of the oil of grace, that
your light may not degenerate into a feeble glimmering or totally expire;
otherwise you may become accessary to the fall and ruin of others, and
"their blood may be upon _you!_" Such a pious union, such holy friendship
as that of Elizabeth and Zacharias, will be _perpetuated through infinite
ages_. It is not a transient but an everlasting union; it shall survive
the grave and defy the stroke of mortality. They who "sleep in Jesus" will
God bring with him. The sepulchre, to such as die in the faith of Christ
and in a state of holy friendship with each other, only resembles a vast
prison, in which dearest friends are separated only for a time in
different cells, and from which they shall be released when the gloomy
keeper resigns his keys, when "death is swallowed up in victory." Those
humble and affectionate disciples who have "walked together in all the
commandments and ordinances of the Lord, here, shall take sweet counsel
above, and walk together in the fields of immortality." In a nobler sense
than the original application of the words, it may be said of all
Christian friends, "they were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in
their deaths they were not divided."

This perpetuation of Christian society and love, is intimated in the most
striking manner by our Redeemer when on the point of departure from his
disciples, whom he called his "_friends_." "I will not henceforth drink of
this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my
Father's kingdom." Who can describe the joys of that "marriage-feast," the
felicities of that endeared spiritual and eternal intercourse, that union
of hearts, that concourse of affections, that flow and mingling of souls!
These are some of "the mysteries of godliness"--this is what "eye hath not
seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to

Let these glorious expectations revive our failing courage amidst the
conflicts of life. Let us not despair, though we may weep over the
companions of our pilgrimage, slain at our side by the irresistible stroke
of death. The separation is transitory--the reunion will be eternal. "But
I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are
asleep, that ye sorrow not even as others which have no hope. For if we
believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in
Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the
Lord, that we which are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord,
shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall
descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and
with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we
which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the
clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the
Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words."

Such as are opposite in character to Zacharias and Elizabeth, and who are
"walking in _none_ of the commandments and ordinances of the Lord," should
reflect on the misery of their condition, as utterly destitute of all
those hopes and privileges which have been described. Who instituted these
ordinances?--who gave these commandments?--whose authority is it you dare
despise?--or who has released you from your obligations to this
authority?--what madness induces you to fly in the face of God--to measure
your power against the sword of Omnipotence? O, remember--"the wages of
sin is death!"


Chapter III.

Introduction of Anna into the sacred Story--inspired Description of
her--the aged apt to be unduly attached to Life--Anna probably Religious
at an early Period--Religion the most substantial Support amidst the
Infirmities of Age--the most effectual Guard against its Vices--and the
best Preparation for its End.

Two illustrious women have already been presented to the reader as
adorning the era of our Saviour's incarnation; the one, the mother of his
humanity, the witness of his miracles, and the weeping attendant upon his
crucifixion; the other, her venerable relative, the wife of Zacharias, and
the parent of John, who was the destined precursor of the "Desire of all
nations." We are now to contemplate another female, whose age superadds a
charm to her excellences, and whose privilege also it was to witness the
commencing brightness of the evangelical day. Like Elizabeth, her
"memorial" is short, but it does not "perish with her." She has a place in
the chronicles of the redeemed, a name before which that of heroes and
heroines fades away, and which it requires no "storied urn nor animated
burst" to perpetuate.

Anna is introduced to our notice on the memorable occasion which has been
already mentioned, when the parents of Jesus took him after his
circumcision to Jerusalem, to "present him to the Lord." Then it was that
Simeon broke forth in eloquent and prophetic congratulations, expressive
at once of his own triumph over death, in consequence of having witnessed
the accomplishment of those prophecies which had so long and so often
filled him with delightful anticipations, and of the "glory" which he
foresaw would irradiate Israel and enlighten the Gentiles. Scarcely had he
finished his address, when Anna, a prophetess, remarkable for her extreme
age and exemplary piety, entered the temple, and not only united with
Simeon and the rest of the interesting group in "giving thanks unto the
Lord," but "spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in

It was benefiting the majesty of the event which had occurred, that the
spirit of prophecy should revive after being dormant for about four
hundred years. Since the days of Malachi no such inspiration had been
afforded; but the new and glorious period commencing with the incarnation
was marked by this as well as other signs and wonders. When Simeon held
the infant Saviour in his arms, the Spirit of God touched his tongue with
a live coal from the altar; and when the aged "daughter of Phanuel"
approached, she caught the glow of kindling rapture, and blended with his
her praises and predictions. This eminent woman is represented as "of a
great age," as having "lived with a husband seven years from her
virginity," and as being "a widow of about four-score and four years,
which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and
prayers night and day." This form of expression does not seem to furnish
decisive evidence whether her entire age was eighty-four, or whether she
was a widow during that period; if the latter, the seven years in which
she had lived with a husband, together with the probable number which
constituted her age at the time of her marriage, must be added to the
calculation, which would produce considerably more than a hundred years;
in either case she must be allowed to occupy a conspicuous place in the
records of longevity.

It has been observed of the aged, that although existence, when extended
beyond the usual period of "threescore years and ten," is nothing "but
labour and sorrow," they still adhere to life with the utmost tenacity,
and are even less disposed to relinquish it than those whose more vigorous
powers and undecayed youth capacitate them for its enjoyment. But however
surprised we may be to witness this anxiety to live in those who are
bending beneath the pressure of years and the load of decrepitude, and to
see that this anxiety rather increases than diminishes, there is something
in it by no means unnatural. In addition to the love of life which is
implanted in every human bosom for the wisest purposes, the aged person
cannot but feel that he is nearer than others to that hour of separation
from all the connexions and interests of time than the multitude around
him--an hour at which nature instinctively shudders, and which is always
regarded as painful, whatever may be the result. Corporeal suffering may
be considerable; and that change of being which the mortal stroke produces
has always something about it awful, mysterious, and terrific. There are
few instances in which it can be approached without some degree of dread,
some shrinking of mind, whatever be the state of detachment from the
present world, and whatever pleasing anticipations may exist with regard
to another: as the patient, however assured of the necessity of the
measure and the importance of the result, trembles while preparations are
making to amputate his disordered limb. It may be observed also of the
young, that while they compassionate their aged friends as the prey of a
thousand imbecilities both of body and mind, and lament over a state in
which man is reduced to a second childhood, there is scarcely an
individual who does not harbour in secret the wish to attain an age equal
at least, if not superior, to any of his cotemporaries. The reason is
similar to that which influences persons at an advanced period of life;
the thought of death, with all its concomitant evils, is unwelcome at any
time, and consequently it is grateful to the mind to place it at the
greatest conceivable distance; so that, were it now within the
appointments of Providence or the bounds of probability, little doubt can
be entertained that the great proportion of mankind would readily accept
as a blessing a patriarchal or antediluvian age.

Anna is particularly noticed as the daughter of Phanuel, of whom we have
no other information; and as belonging to the tribe of Asher, which was
situated in Galilee. This, whether recorded for that purpose or not, might
serve to refute the charge, that "out of Galilee ariseth no prophet,"
since from that quarter proceeded the very first inspirations upon the
revival of the prophetic spirit. Asher was a very inferior tribe, and one
of the ten carried captive by the Assyrians, having departed from the
worship of the true God, and from the house of David, under Jeroboam. But
notwithstanding this general defection, there were individuals who
returned and reunited themselves with Judah, that they might enjoy the
ancient privileges of the people of God. Thus even in the worst of times,
and amidst the least favourable circumstances, some portion of true
religion has always been preserved in the earth. Though the watchful eye
of Providence has occasionally suffered the flame of devotion to languish
and almost expire, yet its total extinction has been prevented, and
unexpected coincidences have frequently excited it into new and more
vigorous action.

We have in the history before us a specimen of a pious old age, remarkable
in itself, and calculated to suggest a variety of useful considerations.
This holy woman probably lodged in the immediate vicinity, if not in some
of the outward apartments of the temple, which gave her an opportunity of
indulging in those constant devotions which accorded with her wishes and
comported with her age. On every occasion she was present at appointed
services, and so entire was her self-devotement to religion, that she was
incessantly engaged in fasting and prayers. The world had no claims upon
her, being alike unfitted for any of its avocations and indisposed to any
of its pleasures: she had bid it a final farewell, and had withdrawn
behind the scenes of this vast theatre, which are so artfully painted as
to allure and deceive the imaginations of mankind, into the secrecy of
devotion and the sanctuary of her God. Peace was the companion of her
retirement, and piety shed its serenest ray upon the evening of her mortal

It may be presumed that the religion of Anna was by no means of recent
date, but that the seeds of so rich a harvest were sown "in the fields of
youth." Whatever is great or eminent is usually the work of time. _Nature_
does not produce the oak, with its spreading branches and solid trunk, in
a day or a twelve month; and, in general, a rapid luxuriancy is connected
with corresponding weakness and quick decay. The plans of _Providence_
require the lapse of years or ages to accomplish: events of importance
seldom burst suddenly upon the world, and without a previous course of
preparatory dispensations, tending to point out the purposes of such
occurrences, and to awaken human expectations. Nor can _excellence of
character_ be formed without the use of means, opportunities of
progressive improvement, and that experience which must be slowly gained.

Far be it from us to limit the operations of divine grace: it _can_,
indeed, and in some instances _has_, produced effects of a nature to which
no general rules and principles are applicable: it has instantaneously
converted a furious persecutor into a faithful, laborious, and eminent
preacher of "the faith which once he destroyed;" it has transformed a
malefactor into a saint, and in one hour raised the criminal from the
depths of infamy and the agonies of crucifixion to the dignity of a
believer in Christ and the joys of paradise. But these surely ought not to
be regarded as the ordinary methods of its operation, but rather as
miraculous interferences. In general, religious ordinances are to be
constantly and perseveringly attended, in order to the acquisition of
eminence in religion: holy vigilance must concur with devout and fervent
prayer, day by day, to check and finally vanquish the power of depravity,
to elevate the mind above the world, and prepare the Christian for his
future bliss; as the child must commonly be "_trained up_ in the way he
should go," if we hope that "when he is old he will not depart from it."
Impressions deepen and acquire the force of principles by degrees,
knowledge is obtained by perpetual accumulation, and faith is increased by
constant exercise. It would be as vain to look for the wrinkles of age in
the face of youth, or the strength of maturity in the arm of an infant, as
to expect the experience which can only result from the witness of changes
and the operation of circumstances, with its corresponding stability of
character, in him who has but just commenced a life of piety. As "the
husbandman waiteth for the precious fruits of the earth, and hath long
patience for it until he receive the early and the latter rain," so we
must in general look for a slow and gradual formation of the character to
eminence and spiritual luxuriancy. The account given of Anna would
therefore lead us to infer that she had been many years, and in all
probability from her youth, devoted to the service of God.

She had not to regret that her best days were spent in riot and
dissipation, in opposition or indifference to religion, by which so many
debase their nature, offend their Maker, and ruin their souls: but while
she contemplated the future without alarm, and perhaps with joy, she could
review the past with satisfaction.

As memory predominates over the other faculties of the mind in declining
life, and as so much of our happiness or misery at that period must
necessarily result from its exercise, it is of the utmost importance to
lay up in store a good provision in the "sacred treasure of the past."
Nothing can be more desirable than to leave the mind filled with pleasing
recollections; and this can arise only from a life of holiness and purity.
How awful is it to think that the last hours should be disturbed by images
of crime unrepented of, the intrusion of which into the dying chamber no
force can prevent! How lamentable to see the terrors of death aggravated
by the remorse and horrors of retrospection! "Life," says a profound
writer, [25] "in which nothing has been done or suffered to distinguish
one day from another, is to him that has passed it as if it had never
been, except that he is conscious how ill he has husbanded the great
deposit of his Creator. Life, made memorable by crimes, and diversified
through its several periods by wickedness, is indeed easily reviewed, but
reviewed only with horror and remorse.

"The great consideration which ought to influence us in the use of the
present moment, is to arise from the effect which, as well or ill applied,
it must have upon the time to come; for, though its actual existence be
inconceivably short, yet its effects are unlimited, and there is not the
smallest point of time but may extend its consequences, either to our hurt
or our advantage, through all eternity, and give us reason to remember it
forever with anguish or exultation." We may take occasion from the
account of Anna to remark, that true religion is the most substantial
support amidst the INFIRMITIES of age. This is emphatically the period of
"evil days," when diseases prey upon the constitution, and the faculties
both of body and mind decay. Then "the sun and the light, the moon and the
stars are darkened;" the greatest change takes place in the outward
circumstances of gladness and prosperity, the countenance of the man is
altered, his complexion faded, and his intellectual faculties, as the
understanding and the fancy, weakened. It is at this time "the keepers of
the house tremble, and the strong men how themselves; the grinders cease,
because they are few, and those that look out of the windows are
darkened;" the strongest members of the body fail, the limbs bend beneath
the weight of decrepitude and the effects of paralytic distempers, the
teeth drop away, while the eyes grow dim and languid; "the doors are shut
in the streets when the sound of the grinding is low," the mouth becoming
sunken and closed; they "rise up at the voice of the bird," awakened from
imperfect slumber when the cock crows or the birds begin their early
songs; and "all the daughters of music," the tongue that expresses and the
ears that are charmed with it, are "brought low;" they are "afraid of that
which is high, and fears are in the way," alarmed at every step they take,
lest they should stumble at the slightest obstacle, and especially
apprehensive of the difficulties of any ascent. At that age their gray
hairs thicken like the white flowers of the "almond tree" when it
"flourishes," and even the very "grasshopper is a burden," for they cannot
bear the slightest inconvenience, not even the weight of an insect, and
"desire fails:" then is the "silver cord loosed, the golden bowl broken;
the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel is broken at the
cistern;" all the animal and vital functions at length cease, and every
essential organ of life decays; "then shall the dust return to the earth
as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it."

Reduced to the state of feebleness and incapacity, which the sacred penman
so beautifully describes, man becomes an object of compassion; and it is
affecting to see him struggling amidst the ruins of his former self. The
sight becomes increasingly painful from the consideration that this is one
day to be our own condition; that we too are destined to grow old, to quit
the busy scene and the social circle for the solitude of age, and in our
turn to be pitied--perhaps forsaken! But there is one thing capable not
only of preserving the old from contempt, but of raising them to grandeur
and diffusing lustre over their years of decrepitude. In contemplating
Anna we do not think of her infirmities when we observe her piety: the
meanness of the _woman_--tottering, crippled, dying--is lost amidst the
majesty of the _saint_, incessantly serving God in his temple, and
advancing to the grave "in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in
his season." The dawning of a heavenly day seems to arise upon her "hoary
head:" which, "being found in the way of righteousness," is a "crown
of glory."

Anna's history further suggests, that religion is the most effectual guard
against the VICES of advanced age. One of these is a spirit of
_querulousness_. It is the common practice of those who believe themselves
entitled to veneration on account of their years, to complain of the
arrogant disregard of their counsels, which they impute to the rising
generation. Cherishing the highest opinion of their own sentiments, to
which they attribute a kind of infallibility, as being founded upon
experience, they naturally expect implicit submission to their dictates
and an exact conformity to their views: they require not only to be heard,
but obeyed, and are impatient at the folly of those who rebel against
their wisdom. Hence originate the often repeated tales of the degeneracy
of the present times, and the growing insolence of the young. It may,
indeed, be admitted, that, other things being equal, the aged have a just
claim upon the attention of the young, whom they are sometimes qualified
to instruct; but surely they are not always entitled to the same
reverence, and age does not necessarily confer wisdom. Genuine humility,
however, tends to correct the spirit of dictation, while it combines with
an affectionate concern for the interests of those who are newly come into
life; and genuine humility is the product of religion, which supplies
motives to give advice with kindness, and to endure the rejection of it
without anger.

Another fault of age, is the indulgence _of useless regrets for the past_.
In reviewing life, it is easy to discover instances of our own incaution
or negligence, which have possibly influenced our affairs and been
connected with many subsequent disappointments. We have not availed
ourselves of fortunate conjunctures, or we have rejected profitable
offers; one scheme has failed by our precipitancy, another by our
procrastination--some persons, perhaps, have been foolishly trusted, and
others as foolishly suspected--we have occasionally listened to advice
which should not have been taken, or rejected what would have proved
advantageous; and the consequence has been some diminution of fortune,
some disappointment of our expectations, some failure in the crop of
earthly enjoyment which we had anticipated. If it were possible to recall
the years which have for ever rolled away, or if the felicity of a
rational and immortal being consisted in the possession of temporal
abundance, worldly honour, or corporeal gratification, these regrets would
have some show of propriety, and might at least secure a patient hearing;
hut it is certain, they only betray a weak or a wicked mind; it is perhaps
equally certain, they will generally continue to occupy the thoughts of
the aged. There is, in fact, but one remedy, "pure and undefiled
religion." It is this alone which can fix in the mind a full persuasion of
the _nothingness_ of terrestrial pleasures and possessions. This only can
console us after our ineffectual efforts to "gain the whole world," or
amidst the loss of riches which have "taken to themselves wings," and long
since "fled away," by the assurance, that nothing we ever possessed was
adequate to render us happy, without other and better enjoyments--that
upon a fair estimate, it is questionable whether the perplexities it
occasioned did not counterbalance the advantages it either bestowed or
promised--and that could we _now_ call our own whatever we have most
valued or desired of worldly good, it would prove incapable of making us
substantially happy. _He_ need not wish to renew life, who has the hope of
a better existence--nor regret the loss of temporal advantages, if he have
immortal good. He who "lays up for himself treasures in heaven," may defy
the storms of time, and adopt the triumphant language of the apostle,
amidst the wreck of earthly good, "having nothing, yet possessing
all things."

Similar views and principles alone can correct a third error of age,
namely, the aim to _prolong juvenility to an unnatural period_. "To secure
to the old that influence which they are willing to claim, and which might
so much contribute to the improvement of the arts of life, it is
absolutely necessary that they give themselves up to the duties of
declining years; and contentedly resign to youth its levity, its
pleasures, its frolics, and its fopperies. It is a hopeless endeavour to
unite the contrarieties of spring and winter; it is unjust to claim the
privileges of age, and retain the playthings of childhood. The young
always form magnificent ideas of the wisdom and gravity of men whom they
consider as placed at a distance from them in the ranks of existence, and
naturally look on those whom they find trifling with long beards, with
contempt and indignation, like that which women feel at the effeminacy of
men. If dotards will contend with boys in those performances in which boys
must always excel them, if they will dress crippled limbs in embroidery,
endeavour at gayety with faltering voices, and darken assemblies of
pleasure with the ghastliness of disease, they may well expect those who
find their diversions obstructed will hoot them away; and that if they
descend to competition with youth, they must bear the insolence of
successful rivals." [26]

Religion also must be regarded as the best preparation for that END of
life, with which old age is so closely connected. However proper it may be
to realize this eventful time, at every period from our earliest to our
latest day, it cannot but be regarded as more certainly and evident near
at an advanced age. Anna, after the lapse of a century, had greater
reason, surely, to apprehend her dissolution, than in the bloom of youth,
or at the commencement of her widowhood; and how appaling the prospect!

It would diminish the impression we have of the terror of death, if his
dominion were limited to a part of the world, or to any ascertainable
extent of years; but, while his authority continues unimpaired and his
stroke irresistible, the power he is permitted to exercise over humankind
is universal. In visiting the repositories of the dead, it is calculated
to awaken our liveliest sensibilities to trace the reign of the "king of
terrors" upon the sepulchral stone, or the marble monument. In characters
which time has almost erased, we read the records of the past, and by a
more than probable analogy penetrate some of the mysteries of the future.
Here and there occur the names of those who were venerable for age,
remarkable for their exploits, conspicuous by their station, rank, or
talent--GREAT by the consent of their cotemporaries--who once figured upon
a stage which is now decayed, or where illustrious in an empire which is
now passed away. Some have been smitten by death's withering hand at an
earlier, some at a later period of life. Adjoining the grave of age is the
tomb of youth. There you see the stone half buried in accumulating heaps
of earth, and the inscriptions of love and tenderness obscured by
collecting moss; while the hand that wrote them has long since become
motionless, and the heart that dictated them ceased to beat.

It is affecting to visit places of public resort, under the full influence
of the consideration, that this busy and anxious crowd will soon
disappear--their race will be run, and the immortal prize
gained--or--lost! These possessors of the soil will, in a little time, be
disinherited--these tenants of a day exchanged--the funeral pall will
cover the most ambitious and the most active of them all, and the motley
multitude be succeeded by others equally busy, equally anxious, equally
thoughtless of another state of being--and equally _mortal_!

But these sentiments, however calculated to fill irreligious persons with
dread and melancholy, can produce no despondency in those who, like Anna,
are accustomed to the truths of religion, and derive the chief pleasure
both of their youthful and decrepit age from the services of religion.
With regard to _death itself_ they are taught that his power is limited to
the body, and that it is restricted even to a short period over this
inferior part of our nature; and as to its _consequences_, they cannot
incessantly frequent the temple, and be occupied in devotion, without
learning the value, as well as the reality, of those considerations which
are drawn from eternity. They know that "this corruptible shall put on
incorruption, this mortal put on immortality," and that then "there shall
be no more death." And what do these expressions imply, but, _the entire
renovation of our nature?_--Man is mortal, because he is sinful; and,
consequently, the removal of sin will prove the extinction of death. It is
only by the introduction of moral evil that the earth has been converted
into a vast cemetery, and life become a short and rugged passage to the
sepulchre; but when it shall no longer prevail, our sanctified nature will
inherit the abodes of purity and undecaying existence. It is this
consideration which endears celestial felicity. Exemption from death
implies deliverance from sin, and the Christian wishes to possess a
character which God shall approve, and to be cleansed from those stains of
guilt which infect his present being, and render him offensive to his
Father in heaven. Were he destined always to be unholy, he would scarcely
contemplate immortality as a blessing; but because he has reason to
anticipate "a waking" from the sleep of the grave, in the divine
"likeness," he realizes a period in the bright annals of his future being,
when he shall no longer have occasion to exclaim, "O wretched man that I
am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" The pains of
_separation_, too, which afflict this mortal state, cannot exist in that
"better country." Society will unquestionably prove one considerable
source of the happiness of heaven, where immortal beings will be so
circumstanced and capacitated, as both to receive and impart enjoyment.
The very nature of man is constituted social; and though our circumstances
in this life often render temporary separations unavoidable, in a perfect
state of society they must be needless; consequently they will not be
suffered to impair the joys of paradise.

The most afflictive of all separations, is that which is occasioned by
death. In all other cases, a lingering hope may exist of a reunion at some
period however distant; at least _the possibility of_ it is cheering: but,
even if there be no reasonable expectation of this, the very consciousness
that our friend is still alive, still on earth, still capable of receiving
and performing acts of kindness, still able to communicate with us by
letter or by message, to participate our pleasures, to sympathize with our
sorrows, and to pray for our welfare, is consoling in every
vicissitude;--but when death sets his awful seal upon our companion,
relative or friend, we cherish a deeper feeling of grief, and cannot look
to any _earthly_ means of consolation--but we _can_ look to a _heavenly_
one! Whatever resource fails, the religion of the Bible supplies
inexhaustible springs of comfort. God is on high--Jesus "ever
lives"--Christians know they shall soon pass into a world where the happy
circle will never be broken, the communion of kindred spirits never cease,
the day of blessedness never decline, the sabbath of immortality never

It is in the temple also, that those who like Anna receive just
impressions from its services, and live in a state of holy intercourse
with God, learn to appreciate the capacities of a spiritual mind for
progression in wisdom and felicity, and by consequence to cherish the
noblest anticipations of their own future possible elevation of character.
How many unfinished schemes are frustrated by death! Our plans of
futurity, our purposes of gain, or our resolves of usefulness, may be
ended in one short hour. Here the labours of the industrious, the studies
of the learned, the investigations of the philosopher, and the career of
the pious, close. The grave silences the voice of the preacher, and
paralyzes the hand of the charitable. Here the arguments of a Paul
end--here the silver tongue of an Apollos is speechless--here the hands of
a Dorcas cease to manufacture for the poor, whose unavailing tears cannot
recall departed piety.

But who will define the limits of possible attainment in knowledge and
excellence in a state of deathless existence? Society is always improving,
even in the present world, amidst all its imperfections. The researches of
past ages have transmitted a vast stock of wisdom to their successors,
both in reference to natural science and religious truth. Who can tell
what discoveries a Newton might have made, had he possessed a terrestrial
immortality? or who can conceive what heights and depths of divine
knowledge might have been disclosed, had the apostles of Christ been
permitted to live to the present period, and had it been the will of God
that they should have received a constant succession of revelations?

In both these cases, not only has death terminated this series of bright
discovery, but this earth is not the destined place, nor time the destined
period, for those manifestations of eternal wisdom, which we have reason
to believe will take place in another world. Those impediments to
knowledge, and those reasons for concealment, which at present exist, will
be removed, and truth open all her treasures to immortalized and
sanctified spirits. The consequence of the progressive disclosure of
spiritual things, of the works and ways of God, will be progressive
improvement: and, as in consequence of the clearer development of truth
in the Gospel, "he who is least in the kingdom of heaven, is greater than
John the Baptist;" so when all the shadows and clouds that bedim our
present existence shall have disappeared, and a ray of heaven pours its
glorious illumination upon the mysteries of time, the least in the
paradise of God will be greater than the most distinguished in his church
on earth. And as we never shall cease to improve in knowledge--for there
will be no termination to our spiritual researches--there will probably
arrive a period in eternity, when he who at the resurrection will be least
in the heavenly world in capacity and glory, will become greater in
consequence of ever new discoveries, than at that moment will be the
greatest of the redeemed universe. And the meanest Christian on earth may
indulge the hope that, at a future age, even he may become superior in
knowledge, in love, in capacity, and in glory, to what the brightest
seraph or the tallest archangel, is at present in the heaven of heavens;
for who can tell what God may do for beatified souls? who dare limit the
operations of his mercy, or who can imagine to what an elevation of wisdom
and felicity an emparadised believer may attain?

Progression is the law of a thinking being. And why should it not operate
upon holy intelligences in the future state, as well as in the present?
and why not when "there shall be no more death," to an incalculably
greater extent? Why should not every new idea acquired in that world
become a seed of truth in the mind, that shall spring up and bear fruit,
multiply and expand, without restriction and without end?--

There is not in religion a nobler or a more animating sentiment, than this
perpetual advancement of the soul towards perfection. Life has its
maturity and decline, nature its boundaries of beauty, human affairs their
zenith of glory; but, in "the new heavens and new earth wherein dwelleth
righteousness," every thing will be eternally upon the advance--there will
be no end to the path of knowledge--present acquisitions will be the basis
of subsequent acquirements--we shall be continually outshining ourselves,
by making nearer approaches to infinite goodness--and the whole moral
creation will be forever beautifying in the eyes of God.

The Woman of Samaria.

Chapter IV.

Account of Christ's Journey through Samaria--he arrives at Jacob's
Well--enters into conversation with a Woman of the Country--her
Misapprehensions--the Discovery of his Character to her as a
Prophet--her Convictions--her Admission of his Claim as the true
Messiah, which she reports in the City--the great and good

Every incident in the life of Christ is illustrative of the evangelical
testimony, "he went about doing good." His efforts were not partial, nor
confined to particular occasions; but, availing himself of all the
opportunities which occurred, either in public or in private, to promote
the welfare of mankind, time never measured out an idle hour--the sun
never sat upon a useless day!

It may be truly said, with regard to those who imbibe the spirit of their
Master, "no man liveth to himself." Nothing can be more remote from
genuine Christianity, than that selfishness which is characteristic of a
worldly disposition, and which with an uniform and undeviating assiduity,
seeks its own interests and purposes: while nothing can so fully comport
with its nature, and evince its prevalence, as that charity which is
limited only by the period of human life, the extent of means, and the
boundaries of creation.

"When the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and
baptized more disciples than John ... he left Judea and departed again
into Galilee."

The jealousy of his enemies induced them to become narrow observers of all
the proceedings of Christ; and, knowing their spirit, he removed to some
distance: not, however, through fear--nor (as some expositors have stated)
lest they should put him to death; for his hour was not yet come--and it
would have been impossible to counteract the purposes of Heaven. He could
easily have eluded their utmost vigilance and malignity, as on a certain
occasion, when "passing through the midst of them, he went his way." But
our Lord did not think proper to disclose himself at once, and in a very
public manner. It was not his intention to astonish, but gradually to
excite the attention of the Jewish nation, to furnish evidences of his
mission to humble and contrite minds, and to lay the foundation of a
future work, rather than to operate on a very extended scale himself. In
this manner was accomplished the prophecy of Isaiah, "He shall not cry,
nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed
shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall
bring forth judgment unto truth."

His route lay through Samaria; any other way to Galilee would have been
very circuitous: and this is mentioned, because of the directions to his
disciples, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the
Samaritans enter ye not; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of
Israel." The hour for that enlarged operation of mercy amongst the
Gentiles, which had been so long predicted, was not yet arrived, though it
was now approaching with desirable rapidity. The dispensations of God are
inscrutable to mortals, to whom it seems profoundly mysterious, that the
purposes of love to man should first be delayed for so many ages, and then
manifested by the work of Christ to so limited an extent. Here we must
"walk by faith, not by sight;" while, upon every leaf in the great volume
of providence, it is legibly written, "My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are
higher than the earth, so are my ways, higher than your ways, and my
thoughts than your thoughts."

It has been piously remarked, that the evangelist refers, by the
expression, "he must _needs go_ through Samaria," to our Saviour's
purposes of mercy to that vicinity; and undoubtedly it is true, that he
was powerfully impelled and irresistibly guided, wherever he went. Nothing
could obstruct his designs of mercy, or his labours of love. No force
could prevent his benevolent progress: as well might human or diabolical
agency attempt to arrest the sun in his course, or stop the march of
time.--"My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." "I _must_ work the works
of him that sent me, while it is day; the night cometh, when no man
can work."

In his journey, Jesus came to a city of Samaria called _Sychar_, which
appears to have been the same with the _Sichem_ or _Shechem_ of the Old
Testament; [27] where was a well, to which tradition had assigned the
name of Jacob, as having been originally dug by that patriarch. It was now
about the sixth hour, or noon, and the climate being exceedingly sultry,
Jesus, under the pressure of fatigue, sat down by the well.

Let us for a moment turn aside, like Moses, to "see this great sight."
Jesus "sat thus on the well," as the weary traveller seeks a renewal of
his strength by temporary repose. What majesty and mystery surround the
spot, when we recall the ancient oracles to mind, which represent him as
"the Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the
Prince of Peace;" and compare descriptions of this nature with the
evangelical record of his own words, "The foxes have holes, and the birds
of the air have nests: but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head."

What a scene for ministering spirits, who had been accustomed to behold
and adore him, but who now witnessed his abasement! What a contrast
between "the Lamb in the midst of the throne," and Jesus sitting on a
well, and afterward suspended on a cross--between the "King of glory:" and
the weary traveller--the "Lord of lords," and the "man of sorrows!"

Let us derive instruction, as well as consolation, from this scene. "We
have not a high-priest, who cannot be touched with the feeling of our
infirmities: but was in all points tempted, like as we are, yet without
sin." If the Saviour had appeared upon earth in external splendour, and in
a manner which to human apprehension would have comported better with the
majesty of his nature and the pre-eminence of his celestial glory, our
insignificance would have created a sense of unapproachable distance: we
should have been more _astonished_ than _attracted_--more _confounded_
than, _conciliated_. But he disrobed himself of ineffable brightness to
bring us nigh, and to produce a just and holy familiarity, saying to his
disciples, "I have called _you friends_."

Let us be reconciled to the infirmities, pains, and poverty we may suffer;
for it is "sufficient for the servant to be as his master." More elevated
stations in life would be attended with more danger to our spiritual
character, and expose us to more afflictions; as mountains in proportion
to their height attract clouds and tempests. The present is a state of
trial for the righteous; but however distressing or obscure our way, Jesus
has trod it before us--sanctifying the path of sorrow by his presence, and
plucking up many of its thorns. Place his example before your
eyes--observe his humble life--his assumed poverty--his unaffected
condescension! To the poor he preached--with the poor he lived--_their_
dress he wore--and their lowly sphere he chose and honoured!

How many of the most important events of our lives may be traced to
trifling circumstances! A single step may have a remote, but very obvious
connexion with the greatest results. A single turn in the journey of life
may influence the happiness, and direct the course of years! "There cometh
a woman of Samaria, to draw water." Nothing could be more apparently
incidental; and yet he who thinks rightly will perceive it to be a link in
the great chain of Providence, which was absolutely essential to the
completion of the whole. It was in the purpose of God, that many of the
Samaritans of that city should believe--that this conviction should be
wrought by that woman, who herself should be forcibly impressed by the
proofs with which she was furnished in the relation of her most private
domestic concerns. Had she come earlier or later, Jesus had not
been there!

We must trace the links of this chain further. The malignity of the
Pharisees induced Jesus to leave Judea; and both convenience, and perhaps
a moral necessity, impelled him here. His arrival at that hour--his
stay--the opportunity occasioned by the absence of his disciples--were all
appointed by superintending wisdom. Who knows what a day or an hour may
bring forth! Little did this Samaritan woman expect such a meeting, such a
traveller, or such a conversation; so wisely and so wonderfully are the
plans of Providence arranged!

How often has the promise been accomplished, "I was found of them that
sought me not!" To some unforeseen occurrence--some accidental
meeting--some trifling coincidence, Christians may often trace their first
conversion, and their best impressions. A stranger--a word, a casualty,
has proved the means of spiritual illumination; and while the recollection
of these circumstances often solace them in the vale of tears, we doubt
not but they will furnish a subject of pleasing contemplation and adorning
gratitude, when they shall have attained the perfection of their being on
the heights of immortality.

"Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink:" a very natural request from a
weary stranger, and one with which, from the common hospitality of the
times, he might expect a ready compliance. The evil effect of luxury is,
that it has multiplied our artificial necessities, and diminished our
benevolent feelings; in a simpler state of society, the wants of mankind
are fewer and more easily supplied.

The woman paused and inquired, "How is it that thou, being a Jew, asketh
drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings
with the Samaritans." Alas! where rancorous animosity exists, how
frequently the laws of hospitality, and the principles even of humanity,
are sacrificed! The Sanhedrim interdicted any friendly intercourse with
the Samaritans, and the Jews cursed them by the secret name of God; and as
this mutual animosity existed, the woman received our Saviour's request
with a reproachful sneer.

The enmity subsisting between the Jews and Samaritans was very ancient in
its origin, and exceedingly inveterate in its character. It had also been
aggravated by different incidents. When the ten tribes revolted in the
time of Jeroboam, the calves were set up in Dan and Bethel, with a view to
seduce the people from worshipping at Jerusalem, which was of course
highly offensive to Judah and Benjamin; and when Shalmaneser, the king of
Assyria, carried away the ten tribes into captivity, he colonized the
cities of Samaria with the Babylonians and others, who carried their false
religion with them; in consequence of which they became odious to the
Jews. At first, the providence of God punished these idolatrous settlers,
by permitting lions to infest the country, whose ravages induced
Shalmaneser to send one of the priests "to teach them the manner of the
God of the land;" when they _united_ the worship of the Jehovah with that
of their own idols. These people very much discouraged the Jews in the
erection of the second temple, after their return from captivity.

After this, when Alexander had conquered Syria and Palestine, Sanballat,
who governed the province of Samaria for Darius, submitted to the
conqueror; and having married his daughter to Manasseh, the brother of
Jaddua the high-priest, he obtained permission from Alexander to build a
temple on mount Gerizzim, in imitation of that which was built at
Jerusalem. [28] Manasseh was constituted the high-priest, a multitude of
Jews mixed with the Samaritans, and a distinct service, after the Jewish
mode of worship, was conducted. This occasioned great contentions, and
suspended all intercourse between the rival nations. The Samaritans are
generally said to have admitted little more of the Old Testament than the
Pentateuch; but Justin Martyr, who was a native of Sichem, affirms that
they received all the prophetic writings. [29]

Drop a pitying tear over human weakness, folly, and crime. What divisions
separate the human race, and exasperate men against each other! But of all
others, they are the most inveterate, which are produced on account of
religion. The Samaritan appoints Gerizzim as the place of worship, in
opposition to Jerusalem--the fires of persecution are instantly kindled,
and the victims of intolerance suffer martyrdom!

To the reproachful insinuation of the woman, Christ returned no answer,
for it kindled no resentment. When he was reviled, he reviled not again:
but with his characteristic condescension and eagerness to instruct the
ignorant, he said, "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that
saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he
would have given thee living water." This language was expressive of his
readiness and ability to supply the necessities of the destitute, to
console the afflicted, and to save the lost. By the "gift of God," he
intended divine bounty in general; by "living water," the blessings of
salvation, especially the gifts and graces of "his holy Spirit." [30]

The conciliating and affectionate manner of Christ's appeal to the woman,
appears to have softened her turbulent spirit, and won her respect. She
uses an epithet of respect previously omitted, "_Sir_,"--perceiving that,
though apparently a _Jew_, he possessed none of that rancorous enmity
which characterizes others, and cherished national antipathies. "A soft
answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger." Offences are
likely to arise in the present world; but let us rather aim to disarm
malignity by conciliation, than strengthen and envenom it by resistance.
Soft words may in time operate on hardened hearts, as water continually
dropping on the rock wears it away. Such a mode of proceeding costs us
little, but tends much to dignify and exalt us. "Who is a wise man and
endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation
his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and
strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This
wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For
where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But
the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and
easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality,
and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of
them that make peace."

Our Saviour's discourse was further distinguished by "exceeding great and
precious promises;" and the woman seems to have partaken of similar
surprise with those who are said to have "wondered at the gracious words
which proceeded out of his mouth." As a "fountain of living waters," he
was always pouring forth refreshing streams; as the depository of wisdom
and knowledge, he incessantly communicated his treasures of sacred
instruction; and as the "Sun of righteousness," he constantly imparted his
heavenly light and heating beams. Who could approach him without feeling
the benign influence, and being benefitted by the rich supply?

As the term which Christ had employed in a spiritual sense, simply denoted
excellent spring water in common language, the woman at present conceived
no other idea of his meaning; and seeing he was a stranger, with no
bucket, she expressed her astonishment at his promise. With some
mysterious impression, probably, of his extraordinary character, blended
with incredulity, she proceeded to inquire, "Art thou greater than our
father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his
children, and his cattle?"

This may furnish an exemplification of the fact, that the "natural man
receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness
unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually
discerned." The terras of Christianity are mysterious, because its
doctrines are misunderstood, and cannot be discerned by him, the "eyes of
whose understanding" are beclouded, and whose heart is sensual. How
deplorable the effects of sin, which has drawn a veil over the moral
perceptions of man; in consequence of which, he cannot see the glories of
truth, the charms of Jesus, the value of his soul, and the importance of
its redemption! Nothing but the glare of earthly grandeur can affect him,
while eternity with all its vast concerns disappears.

Though the woman at first manifested considerable animosity, and afterward
betrayed great ignorance, Jesus was neither provoked by her prejudices,
nor irritated by her misconceptions. We must not unnecessarily _wound_
the unenlightened, nor even the perverse, by reproaches; but aim to _win_
them by kindness and forbearance. O for more resemblance to the "Lamb of
God," and more of the temper which the apostle inculcates! "And the
servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to
teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if
God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the
truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil,
who are taken captive by him at his will."

It would exceedingly conduce to the promotion of this spirit, were we
frequently to recollect our own former ignorance and slowness to apprehend
the "truth as it is in Jesus;" and the patience we have ourselves
experienced, especially from "our Master in heaven." We should also
consider, that the best and most permanent impressions are often the most
gradual; and he who advances to perfection, goes on from strength to
strength. Let us not be unduly discouraged, because of our _present_
ignorance and darkness of mind: but pursuing our inquiries with a humble
and teachable disposition, we may hope by copious supplies from the Source
of wisdom, to increase our knowledge, and enlarge our capacities.

It appears rather surprising, that instead of questioning the pretentions
of Christ, this woman did not at once solicit a fulfilment of his promise,
and "draw water from the wells of salvation;" but her method of proceeding
is illustrative of a very common case. Religious inquirers are full of
doubts and prejudices; for though Jesus invites them to participate the
blessings he so liberally dispenses, they imagine, _falsely_ imagine, that
some previous qualification is requisite to justify their approach. "Can
such a sinner be saved? Am I _indeed_ invited--after all my sins and
broken vows? I know not whether I shall be accepted, for what claim have I
upon his mercy?"

Yet the Saviour still invites--still promises--still encourages--still
instructs--and will not let the weakest inquirer go, but guides his feet
into the way of peace.

"Whosoever," said he to the woman, "whosoever drinketh of this water shall
thirst again; but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him,
shall never thirst: but the water that I shall give him, shall be in him a
well of water springing up into everlasting life." The allusion is
unquestionably to that principle in the heart which is of divine
implantation, and which however various its names, and diversified its
operations, is uniform in its nature and origin. Sometimes it is
represented by the cause, and sometimes the effect. It is the "_Spirit_
given to them that ask him," with regard to agency; it is _grace_, in
point of character; and it is holiness or practical religion, in reference
to its outward influence. Jesus Christ beautifully describes this
principle in his metaphorical addresses to the woman of Samaria, by an
allusion to the thirst which the water of life assuages, the inexhaustible
consolation it imparts, as a "_well_ of water;" and the perpetual and
perfect blessedness with which it is connected, as "springing up into
everlasting life."

_Thirst_ is one of the most powerful propensities of human nature, and is
therefore adapted to represent the intensity of that desire with which
mankind seek the wealth, the honours, and the pleasures of the world: and
though "he that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he
that loveth abundance with increase;" the appetite is still insatiable,
and the pursuit continued. When under the influence of violent thirst, it
is not unusual for persons to avail themselves of the first supply,
however unwholesome, and eagerly to drink even of a filthy stream; with
similar impatience and satisfaction, the "carnal mind" indulges in its
sensualities, seizing forbidden, and contented with polluting joys. But
the grace of God in the heart is distinguished for its purifying
influence: it cleanses the spirit from guilt--sanctifies it by the
"washing of regeneration," and imparts a new desire, a heavenly thirst, a
holy ardour for spiritual communications; so that "as the hart pants after
the water-brooks, so panteth the soul after God."

This woman had a considerable distance to go in order to procure the water
with which it was needful to supply the necessities of her household; and
when arrived at the spot, it was a laborious service to draw from the
well, and return laden into the city. Our Saviour intimates, on the
contrary, the ease with which his divine blessings were attainable, as
well as their unfailing abundance. There is imparted to every applicant a
fund of peace, in consequence of which "a good man is satisfied from
himself." Religion furnishes consolations of a nature precisely _adapted_
to our necessities as fallen and miserable creatures; and it affords them
in circumstances, when it is obvious that no other resource remains. The
supplies of this world resemble the casual streamlets of winter, cold, and
soon exhausted, or lost in evaporation beneath the returning beam of
spring: but amidst the vicissitudes of life, and in the hour of
dissolution, religion has consolations which never fail. The river of a
Christian's consolation runs throughout the wilderness of time, nor stays
in its course till it expands into the boundless and fathomless ocean of
eternal blessedness.

At length, the woman in question is induced to make the request which we
wonder she did not at first present; though still she misapprehends the
meaning of her divine Teacher, however plain his sentiment may now appear
to us; in consequence of which, he condescended to adopt another mode of
conveying instruction to her mind. He had excited her attention, he now
proceeds to address her conscience.

We must not overlook the circumstance that Christ was "wearied with his
journey;" but he was not wearied with his _work_--well doing. If he had
now remained silent, it would not have been wonderful; or if, intending to
disclose his character to this woman, and by her means to the Samaritans,
he had smitten her conscience, removed her prejudices, enlightened her
mind, and won her affections, as we know he could have done, _in a
moment_--as when he said to Matthew, "Follow me," and immediately "he left
all"--or as when he spake from the clouds with irresistible effect to
Saul;--we should not have been astonished that he spared his words, while
we must have admired the mighty operation of his grace. But lo! he entered
into a long conversation, though in a weary hour, and took the utmost
pains to teach her. We have here an example for our imitation. Ought not
_we_ to be _patient_ and _laborious_? Ought not _we_ to recollect the
value of the soul, and strive "in season and out of season" to win it,
knowing "he that converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall
save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins?" "The servant
of the Lord must not _strive_," nor despond; lest consulting his own
advantage, he prejudice the divine service; but he must forget his
infirmities, and pursue his work.

To the request, "Sir, give me this water," Jesus does not appear to have
returned any direct answer, but said, "Go, call thy husband, and come
hither." The reply _was_, in one view, direct, and he began _instantly to_
communicate the "living water;" for the discourse upon which he entered,
though at a superficial glance it may appear foreign to the immediate
purpose of her request, and might seem to point her to a different
subject, was really intended to produce deep and salutary convictions of
sin, and such as were requisite in order to her reception of the _living
water_ of spiritual consolation. Nothing in reality could display both the
_wisdom_ and _goodness_ of the great Teacher in a more striking manner,
than this proceeding. In effect, he takes her by the hand, conducts her
through the narrow path of conviction and penetential acknowledgment, to
that fountain which has supplied millions, and is still inexhaustible; and
by whatever mysterious methods he brings his people to himself and to
their final rest, it will ultimately be found the _right_ way to the city
of habitation. As the woman did not comprehend his metaphorical language,
he determined to disclose his prophetic character. "Jesus saith unto her,
Go, call thy husband, and come hither. The woman answered and said, I have
no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband:
for thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy
husband: in that saidst thou truly." By divine inspiration, an ordinary
prophet might be supposed to have been made acquainted with the woman's
character and domestic circumstances; but we must contemplate the Saviour
on this occasion as supporting his claim to a higher distinction, such as
none of them could possess. It is a solemn consideration that we are
perpetually inspected by those "eyes which are upon the ways of man," and
by _him_ who seeth all his goings, his most retired moments, most secret
sins, most private affairs, and most latent thoughts. Even though we
should not live in that excess of sensuality which existed in this case,
how important is the apostolic entreaty, to "abstain from fleshly lusts;"
and how just the assurance, "they war against the soul!"

At length the woman's eyes were opened; she had a glimpse of the glory of
her divine Instructer through the influence of that grace which is
effectual in its operations, and imparts those perceptions which cannot be
otherwise possessed. Happy for us if we have been led to discern the
exalted character and excellencies of the Son of God! "Sir," said she, "I
perceive that thou art a prophet;" and availing herself of the present
favourable opportunity, she proposes a question much and violently
agitated between the Jews and Samaritans. When the passions are inflamed
by controversial discussion, how apt are we to be mislead by the opinions
of men rather than guided by the oppointments of God; and how frequently
convenience, instead of conscience, dictates the conduct of religious
professors! The Samaritan woman pleads the authority of the fathers for
worshipping at mount Gerizzim rather than repairing to Jerusalem. This has
frequently proved a source of error; and the history of mankind will
furnish ample evidence, that in departing from Scripture, the only "sure
word of prophecy," we shall inevitably wander into an endless labyrinth of
mistake, and be lost amidst the intricacies of delusion.

Our Lord intimates the improper proceedings of the Samaritans in
consequence of being thus misled by prejudice and by the example of
others, and shows that Jerusalem was certainly the ancient place of
appointed worship, and the Jews the depositaries of celestial wisdom. From
that illustrious people issued the word of the Lord which contained the
doctrine of salvation, which descended like the dew from heaven, and was
calculated to diffuse spiritual fertility through the earth, and impart
universal joy. "Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither
in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye
know not what: we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But
the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the
Father in Spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and
in truth." In this passage Jesus points out the superior nature of the
worship which was now required, and which he was about to introduce to the
world. In the former controversy the Jews were certainly right; but the
designs of mercy being now accomplished in the mission of the Son of God,
and the "fulness of time being come," it was determined to spread the
blessings of the "everlasting Gospel" to the widest possible extent, and
to render, in honour of the mediation of Christ, the whole earth an
universal temple, in which the sacrifice of humble and contrite hearts
should be always acceptable.

Two great effects were produced by the introduction of the Christian
dispensation. The one respected the _mode of worship_. It was now no
longer to be _ceremonial_, but _spiritual_; it was no longer to be
conducted in _types_ and _shadows_, but in _truth_. In compassion to human
infirmity, numerous ceremonies were originally appointed, to impress awe,
and to fill the mind of man with a sense of the majesty of God. The
conceptions of a fallen creature being too grovelling at first to
comprehend the invisible realities of religion, a system of service was
admitted which tended to produce general impressions by an appeal to the
external senses, and thus slowly to insinuate sublimer facts, and prepare
for more noble manifestations; but when "the Lord came to his temple," and
made "the place of his feet glorious," darkness vanished, truth shone with
effulgent brightness, and simplicity rose to the dominion which ceremony
and complexity had assumed: at his presence the new creation smiled, and
the Lord of the universe again descended to pronounce upon another series
of wonderful works, that "all was very good."

Another effect resulting from the introduction of the Christian age
concerned the _variety and number of worshippers_. The limitations which
had hitherto prevailed in communicating truth to the world were to be
superseded; for, though the commissioned apostles were to deliver their
message "to the Jew _first_," they were expressly directed to convey it
"_also_ to the Gentiles." How calculated is this precedure to allay
animosities and unite hearts! and what a motive is here presented to us to
dismiss every petulant and revengeful disposition from the Christian
sanctuary, remembering that whether Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, bond or
free, every one is accepted of God _only as he is a_ SPIRITUAL WORSHIPPER!

As "God is a spirit," witnessing our movements and acquainted with our
thoughts at all times and in every place, we should often consecrate our
moments to his service. In the hour of seclusion and retirement, as well
as on public occasions and in religious assemblies, it becomes us to
direct our meditations to him by whom we are encircled. Let us contemplate
GOD, and feel his awful presence. He is on heaven and on earth; his eyes
behold us amidst the shades of midnight as well as in the brightest noon
of day; he pervades all space, is in all time, above all creatures, before
all being, and through all eternity. "Canst thou by searching find out
God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?"

At the period of this conversation at Jacob's well, a very general
expectation of the speedy appearance of the Messiah was prevalent, and the
woman was aware of the reference in the words, "The hour cometh, and _now
is_, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father;" although at
present "her eyes were holden," that she did not know him through the
concealment of his mean attire and unstately solitariness. This, however,
was wisely planned; and while it tended to cast contempt on worldly glory,
it enabled him to become a fellow-sufferer with his people, and to cherish
a holy familiarity with his disciples. Hence we find him not in palaces,
but in cottages--on the highways of common resort--healing the sick at the
pool of Bethesda, conversing with a poor woman at Jacob's well, and in
other similar situations: and never shall we be worthy to bear his name
till we imitate his conduct. "The woman saith unto him, I know that
Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us
all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he." This was
the point to which all his discourse was directed, this the revelation he
intended from the first to disclose; but how wisely was it delayed! Such
an assertion at the commencement of the conversation would have kindled
animosity or excited ridicule; but that mind which was originally so
prejudiced and so resentful, is brought to receive the most glorious and
spiritual discovery. If we wonder at her ignorance, and lament her
prejudices previously to this declaration, how much more criminal would
she have _now_ been had she persisted in unbelief! Yet, alas, how often is
Christ proclaimed, all his glories revealed, and all his truth exhibited,
by the ministry of the Gospel, and nevertheless rejected!

Upon Christ's explanation of his true character, the Samaritan woman
immediately left her water-pot, and went into the city, to announce her
discoveries to the neighbourhood, and invite her fellow citizens to the
Messiah. Glowing with zeal for others, she said, "Come, see a man which
told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" And the
historian records the success of her efforts; for "they went out of the
city, and came unto him;" and "many of the Samaritans of that city
believed on him." This induced them to solicit his continuance for some
time amongst them, "and he abode there two days. And many more believed
because of his own word; and said unto the woman, Now we believe, not
because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this
is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world."

Gratitude becomes us in reflecting upon that diversity of means which
divine wisdom uses to promote the circulation of his truth, and "win souls
to Christ." The greatest beings are at his control, and are sometimes
commissioned to visit the "heirs of salvation"--"Bless the Lord, ye his
_angels_, that excel in strength, _that do his commandments, hearkening
unto the voice of his word_;" while on other occasions he employs the most
unlikely agents, or the feeblest instrumentality, to "do his pleasure." He
can from the very stones "raise up children unto Abraham," convert an
infuriated persecutor into an "apostle of the Gentiles," or change a
Samaritan into a Christian, an infidel Gentile into a child of Abraham by
faith, and a woman coming casually to draw water for her household, into
an instrument of dispensing the living streams of salvation to a
perishing vicinity.

The early part of the narrative before us, is sufficient to show, that
however slow persons whom we have an opportunity of instructing in
religious truth may seem in understanding, or however reluctant to obey
it, we ought never either to despair of success, or be weary of repeating
our instruction. "I charge thee," says Paul in addressing Timothy, "before
God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at
his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out
of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine."
Who can tell the favoured period? Who can calculate the extent of the
benefit conferred when one sinner is "converted from the error of his
ways?" And who would not rejoice at the thought of having his final hour
cheered by the recollection of having been the means of letting in the
light of an eternal day even upon an individual of the human race, who was
once sitting in the darkness of spiritual delusion, and pining in the
dungeon of guilt, and misery, and helplessness?

Many things in religion, which we at present misunderstand, may probably
become intelligible in the course of future experience, and a great
variety of interesting truths now unknown will certainly be revealed in
another world. The woman of Samaria could not for a considerable time
comprehend the metaphorical allusions of Christ; but when she had "found
the Messiah," she was no longer at a loss to ascertain the signification
of the stranger's assurance, that he could have given her, had she
requested it, "living water." The disclosure of one fact, illustrated
another, and in spiritual knowledge and attainment she went on doubtless
with a rapidity proportioned to her extraordinary advantages.

With what deep interest, at every subsequent period of her life, would
this woman recollect the conversation at Jacob's well! Never, surely,
would she repair again to that spot, without presenting to her imagination
the image of Jesus sitting there, like a weary traveller, asking for water
to refresh his pilgrimage, incidentally adverting to topics of supreme
importance, addressing her conscience, and gradually unveiling his
character to her view--first as a prophet, then as the Messiah of the
Jews, and the glory of the Gentiles! Never could she forget that wonderful
morning--a morning which shone with such glory in the annals of her

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest