CHAPTER XI.

Narrative of G_____ A______ S_____, an Episcopal clergyman — Narrative of a young officer in the army.

THE following is the religions experience of G_____ A______ S_____, an Episcopal clergyman in H_____, which he recently communicated to the author of these essays, to be used as he might think proper:

“I entered the Military Academy at West Point in the summer of 1825, the second year of the present Bishop McIlvaine’s residence there as chaplain. I sat under his preaching ‘as with the Spirit of God,’“ with eyes that did not see and ears that did not hear. The chaplain departed — the curse was still upon my soul. Finally, I became much involved in the spirit of infidelity, together with several others. One evening in particular I trembled at the thoughts of our conversation: in the darkness of our minds we had denied all. A few days afterward one of my companions, noted for his brightness of intellect, called at my room and [[@Page:279]] said, I have been reading Alexander’s ‘Evidences of the Christian Religion,’ and it has almost persuaded me to be a Christian. I well remember with what great delight I received the communication, resolving to get the book and ‘see if those things were so;’ not, however, with any view or desire of becoming a Christian at PRESENT. In due time the book was procured. I retired to my room, my heart as hard as the millstone, the heavens over my head as brass, and the earth beneath my feet as iron. I opened to the introduction, the most blind of unbelievers; all around me was perfect clouds and darkness. I began to read; I had proceeded half-way through the introduction, and was suddenly impressed that the religion of Christ was of God. I did not doubt its truth more than I did my life; yet I was entirely without argument. At that time I could have given no reason, yet I did not doubt. I felt a perfect belief that an omnipotent Spirit did it. Before I hardly believed there was a God; now I felt it as by a two-edged sword. It was a most awfully sublime moment, yet I had not the least fear. I did not even think of sin. The next impression was, that I was undergoing a conversion. This I would not then: the thought was very [[@Page:280]] pleasant that now I knew Christ died for the world, and that at some future time I would go further in his love. I was happy, sublime, no terror; a thought did not enter my mind of the consequence of delay.

“To avoid the progress of conversion I threw down the book perfectly satisfied, for I had attained to one of the most splendid pieces of consciousness imaginable; a sight beyond the veil, within eternity, worth thousands of worlds to me. I turned to think of something else. And oh the horrors of hell! how they came flooding in upon my soul! I felt that an omnipotent Hand was guiding them there. Commensurate with my agony was my awful sense of sinfulness; a conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment to come rose before my eyes in immense reality. I felt no anguish, no fear, no sin until I resolved not to attend to these things at present. My anguish of soul became insupportable; it thickened and darkened; I could not endure it longer. And with the sole view of escaping my present misery I resolved to yield to the will of that mighty Being who was rending my soul. I instantly caught up the book and offered a prayer for mercy. The intensity of my anguish began immediately to subside. The [[@Page:281]] wrath of God seemed to mitigate in a few moments; I settled down into a state of deep and solemn conviction of sin — a state more tolerable than the former, but still one of gloom so thick that it could be felt. A mountain weight pressed upon my soul; how to remove it I knew not, for the Spirit still held me bound. I did not know but this was to continue through life. I endeavoured to lose my feelings and feel at ease, but I could not. I knew nothing of the way of salvation; I had no spiritual guide; but in order to keep my present sorrow as light as possible I continued to read and pray for mercy. Thus I continued in the wilderness for about a week; when, sitting by my fireside, dwelling upon my despair, a sudden light came down from heaven; I saw the open gate — ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ — a new song was put into my mouth, and I rejoiced with joy unspeakable and full of glory! Unspeakable gratitude be to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost for ever and ever! I have thought that two particulars in the above are worthy of notice: 1st. The motives that actuated me. 2d. That, being perfectly ignorant of the way of salvation, the Spirit was a perfect teacher.”

There are several things very remarkable in the [[@Page:282]] preceding narrative. The delight at finding an infidel companion convinced or almost convinced of his error; the desire to see the book which had produced this effect; the sudden persuasion of the truth of the Christian religion by a sudden impression on the mind; the elevated happiness experienced on account of having discovered the truth; the determination still not to become a Christian at present; the horror and anguish consequent on this resolution; the relief obtained by resuming attention to religion; and finally the discovery of the way of salvation through Christ, when the moment before no idea was entertained of such a way, — are all remarkable circumstances, and to some may seem to savour of enthusiasm. But we cannot prescribe limits to the Holy Spirit in his ways of leading benighted souls into the path of life. Still, it may be asked, How could there be a rational conviction of the truth of Christianity when the individual knew no reasons or arguments in favour of it? To which it may be answered that Christianity has a light of its own, independent of all external evidences; and if the Spirit of God cause one ray of this divine light to irradiate the mind, the truth becomes manifest. This person was on the borders of atheism. By an awful impression [[@Page:283]] on his mind, God caused him to feel and know that he existed and held him in his hand, and at the same time let a ray of light from divine revelation into his mind. Suppose a number of human beings to he educated in a dark cavern, where they never saw the light of heaven; but being visited by one and another who testified to them the existence of the celestial luminaries, the candid among them, upon weighing the evidence, would acknowledge the existence of such bodies; although, of necessity, their conceptions of these objects would be very inadequate.

But some, depending on their own reason, might reject the testimony as a mere fabrication, since what was related was totally contrary to all their own experience. Suppose, then, that the guardian of these subterranean inhabitants should take one of these skeptics to a point where a single ray of light from the sun should be let in upon his eyes, how wonderful the sensation, how sublime the emotion, how strong now the persuasion of the existence of such a bright luminary! The doubts of such a one, however deep and inveterate, would be dissipated in a moment; not by argument: where we possess intuition, argument is superfluous. So, in the case before us, one ray of divine light [[@Page:284]] produced instantaneously the undoubted persuasion of the divine existence and that the Christian religion was from God. The next ray of light opened to the astonished view of the man the awful sinfulness of his character, and discovered to him that he was in the hands of an angry God, from whose terrors he could not escape; and the third cast a clear light on the way of salvation, filling the soul with joy unspeakable. The only thing which seems contrary to our common theory is, that the person supposed that he was taught the method of salvation by the Spirit without any aid from the external teaching of the Word. Now, this is very possible, but it would be of the nature of inspiration and not mere illumination. I am, therefore, of opinion that there was within the knowledge of the individual so much acquaintance with Christ and his mediatorial work that, agreeably to his usual method, the Spirit took of the things of Christ and showed it unto him. And although now, when inspiration has ceased, the Spirit makes no new revelations to men, yet he often brings to their remembrance truths once known, but which may have been long forgotten; according to John xiv. 2G: see also xvi. 8-14. One single evangelical text may be made the object of saving faith.

[[@Page:285]] It is exceedingly gratifying to be made acquainted with such cases. It shows that the Holy Spirit, who operates where and when he will, is often at work on the minds of those whom we would least suspect to be thus visited. Here a thoughtless cadet at our Military Academy falls into infidelity, yea, atheism — is surrounded by companions in the same state of mind. Providence throws a book of “Evidences” in his way, and while he reads a new light darts into his mind — not from the book, but from the Father of lights — and this infidel young man becomes a preacher of that very gospel which he aimed to destroy. LAUS DEO! To God be all the glory!

The writer of the following narrative is a young officer of high promise belonging to the American army. It is a pleasing thing to find that men who, by their profession, are commonly far removed from the usual means of grace are not beyond the reach of the divine mercy. It is much to be desired that both our army and navy should be supplied with a competent number of pious and exemplary chaplains, but this want seems to be very little felt, and therefore is very imperfectly provided for. When men of either of these professions embrace religion, they are commonly remarkable for the [[@Page:286]] eminence of their piety. The fact is, that they are exposed to so much ridicule and opposition that, unless their religious impressions were strong and their resolutions firmly fixed, they would not be able to stand up against the opposing current.

This narrative will at least encourage the hearts of pious parents who have sons in exposed situations not to despair of their conversion, but to be incessant in their prayers that God would graciously follow them with the strivings of his Holy Spirit, and in due season bring them to the foot of the cross. And may it not be a good opportunity to remind all praying persons that, in the variety of their intercessions, the young men in our army and navy should not be forgotten? As long as such institutions are needed, they who are set for the defence of our country by sea and land should not be forgotten in the prayers of Christians and of the Church:

“I entered the Military Academy in 1828. As was customary with my parents, I was furnished with a Bible, with the injunction to read it often and make it the rule of my life. Like most other youths, however, I kept it in my trunk, and — I blush while I say it — I do not believe that during the whole time I was there — four years — I took it [[@Page:287]] out to read more than six times; and then, probably, I had a desire to, if I did not actually, conceal the act from my room-mates around me. How strange the aversion to that good book, and yet how general this antipathy in the thoughtless around us! I must confess, however, that though my aversion to it was strong, I had a firm belief in its truth, and though in such a body of young men I could not but now and then hear an effort on the part of one or another around me to convince himself of its untruth, yet I must say that I never could get rid of the fear of God in my heart, or of the firm conviction of the truth of his word. Still, however, I graduated an impenitent sinner, and, being let loose from scholastic restraints and left to my own guidance, like most other youths under the same circumstances I followed the ways of pleasure and worldly gratification.

“After graduating, in 1832, I went home. But, alas! how changed! My father and brother had both gone, during my absence, to that borne from which no traveller returns. Their spirits had fled — it is hoped to heaven. I did not see them in their dying hours, but their spirits, though gone, still spake. I was told of the anxiety they both expressed, just before death, on my account, and in [[@Page:288]] particular the reply of my father to the question asked him, if he had any word to send to me: ‘No, only to read my letters,’ was his reply. Yes, father, I have read those letters, and long shall they be treasured up in recollection of thy solicitude. But I must continue my narrative. Though the scenes at home, this visit, were impressive, yet they did not result in producing within me the conviction that I was a sinner. I left my home again as impenitent as I had come. This time my sister furnished me with a Bible, with the prayer written in it that I ‘would make it the rule of my conduct and the guide of my life.’ As before, I stowed it away in my trunk, thence scarcely, if ever at all, to come out. Probably for years together I did not so muck as look into it; and during all this time, except when at home, I was as much a stranger to the church as I was to the Bible. Indeed, what is more shameful, in 1836 I in some unaccountable way lost my Bible; so that from that time till the latter part of the year 1838, or during an interval of two years, I was entirely without one; and during all this time, besides having no Bible (I did not dream of buying one), I was so situated, at least for much the greater portion of the time, that I could not have [[@Page:289]] access to any church. I was serving with the army against the Indians at the South, and every one knows how ill-calculated an active life in the field is to produce serious impressions. Still, I may say during. all this time I had the fear of God before my eyes, though not to the extent as to cause me to love and serve him or to cut off any of my darling pleasures. And yet how good the Lord was! Though I went on sinning day after day, and was often thrown into discussion with infidels around me, who strove their utmost to argue or laugh me out of what they would call my early prejudices, and though I indulged in reading infidel productions — Tom Paine’s work among the number — yet still his Spirit would strive with me, and would not give me entirely over to my own devices.

“I returned North in the fall of 1838, and again saw my widowed mother — her who had nurtured me with a Christian’s care, and who had early instilled into me those religious principles and feelings which, by the grace of God, had never been entirely lost to me, and to which, under the same spiritual influence, I must attribute my having been kept from utterly falling away. I saw her again, exhibiting as before the chastening influences of the religion she professed. The same calm and [[@Page:290]] resigned countenance, the same sweet smile of welcome, still showed the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit upon her heart. I thought I could see the workings of her feelings in my behalf, and I could not but imagine that in every look she gave me she offered up a prayer on my account.

“I left her for a station North. I may say I went away this time with better feelings than I ever did before. I had had, by this time, some experience of the world, and had already thought of the nothingness of its pleasures; and, besides, the calm, peaceful and happy deportment of my mother made me anxious to become a partaker also of religion. I went away with the firm determination of at least looking more into the Bible, and of thus taking the first step toward making myself better. Another sister this time, on my leaving her, presented me with a Testament. This, when I got to my station, I read, or attempted to read, every evening. I tasked myself to one chapter. But a late return from a party or ball would cause me to defer it till the morning; and then, if the breakfast-bell should arouse me from my slumbers, I would neglect it till the evening. And so, between the parties and balls and indolence in the morning, my reading of the Testament was very [[@Page:291]] irregular. But still, I had a great respect for religion and admired the truths of the gospel. I would always uphold good principles of conduct in those around me, and would as often reprobate those that were bad. But all my ideas of virtue were founded on a wrong basis. I believed that it was in the power of every individual, of himself, to do good and eschew evil. And therefore when I did see good principles in those around me my admiration was upon the individual himself, and not upon the Holy Spirit which restrained him; and when I saw wickedness in those around me my condemnation (and my self-righteousness could not make it too strong) was upon the individual and not upon the sin which impelled him.

“But still, though I strongly criticised the conduct of others, upholding the good and denouncing the bad, yet I felt that I was not a Christian in the Bible sense of the term. I knew this from my utter inability to pray. On retiring, I had often attempted to realise the overshadowing presence of a God above me; but all was hard, dark and impenetrable. I could not realise the existence of an all-merciful Saviour. During all this time I regularly attended divine service at least once a day, every Sunday. I was delighted to either hear or [[@Page:292]] read a good sermon. But I heard or read it more with the feelings of a critic than of a humble follower of the lowly Jesus desiring the sincere milk of the Word. And so, whenever the preacher expatiated upon the beauties of virtue, though I received pleasure from his discourse, yet I had none of the consciousness that virtue was to be followed because God had commanded it, but because it seemed to be a necessary element in society, and perhaps because its votary reciprocally recommended himself to society by its pursuit. I recollect in particular that Dr. Chalmers’ sermons afforded me great satisfaction. But the beautiful imagery in them, as well as his elegant diction, probably pleased me quite as much as the truths he inculcated.

“Things went on in this way for nearly a year, when at the close of this time I began to feel myself strongly tempted by the evil one, though at the time I did not attribute it to this unseen spirit. Probably it is better to say (to use the language I would have then used) I was uneasy, discontented, looked at things awry, extracted more of the bitter than the sweet from the things and circumstances around me, or, in other words, was extremely miserable. ] could experience no joy from the [[@Page:293]] things of earth, and of the joys of heaven I knew nothing.

“But, thanks to a g rod and righteous God, he was pleased to let me into this state to show me that all my hopes of happiness from earthly things were vain. I was in the act of throwing myself on the settee when I carelessly took up the Bible, which happened to be lying near me. The first chapter I opened at was the First Epistle general of Peter, chapter first. But how shall I describe my feelings the moment I cast my eyes upon its pages? My heart was melted into deep contrition. I felt the love of God shed abroad in my whole being. I was convinced that I had the Holy Spirit at work within me. I was affected to tears at his goodness. I wept like a child. I felt that I had been a sinner. My ingratitude came like a flood upon me. I was overcome with gratitude for his mercy. It completely possessed my whole being. I rejoiced in the thought that though I had been a wanderer from him, yet he was a good and kind Saviour, and was ready to forgive me all the injuries I had done him. I could indeed say, with deep conviction, as I read the passage which presented itself to me: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which, [[@Page:294]] according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.’ Indeed, this whole chapter seemed to be perfectly adapted to my state. I recollect, in particular, the eighth verse was singularly pleasing to me: ‘Whom having not seen ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

“Another remarkable circumstance connected with this display of divine goodness was the wonderful acuteness of intellect I felt myself to have in reading the word of God. And not only could I perceive things in the gospel that I never saw before, but I felt my whole character changed. I felt not only a strong love to God, but to everybody around me. I could have wept upon the bosom of my bitterest enemy. Oh the joys of that moment! But, alas! how vain and impotent are the attempts of man unless the Holy Spirit of God remains with him! I recollect very well that I thought I would go and see the minister and tell him what had passed. But not acting up to the suggestion immediately, I neglected it, and soon again, sad to say, I had relapsed into my former forgetfulness of the Lord. The fear of the ridicule [[@Page:295]] ol the world had been too strong for my faith, and I felt too that I could not yet give up the world and declare myself on the Lord’s side. But still he would not let me go. He would not give me up.

“I was removed shortly afterward to another station, and here I can see the all-gracious design of Providence in this change. I was by this means thrown into the society of several pious officers. One in particular, whom I valued very highly, and who the very evening he conversed with me upon the goodness of God in twice leading him back from signal relapses into sin, was seized with the fever that in five days carried him to his grave, was of great service to me, under the divine blessing, in confirming me in my resolves to renounce the world and cleave unto the Lord; and so indeed were all the others. Suffice it to say, that not many months after I came among them I openly proclaimed myself on the Lord’s side, and sealed the covenant by partaking of the emblems of his body and blood. And it is an additional source of happiness for me to state that it was not long after that the partner of my bosom also renounced the world and joined me in the race set before us in the gospel.

[[@Page:296]] “The foregoing narrative I have thought would be of some interest to you. But if it serve no other purpose than to show how good the Lord has been to me, it will answer its end.”