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jectures expressed as to his motives, and it immediately occurred to all that Edward's absence was protracted even beyond any former limits. Suspense was, however, reduced to certainty by Mr. F's return, and his agitated countenance and trembling manner at once confirmed their forebodings. He had been to his son's room, which bore no traces of having been occupied during the night. Great disorder, and signs of a hurried departure, were alone visible; while in an open drawer lay a letter addressed to his father ; it was evidently written under strong emotion, and so blotted, as his parents fondly thought, by tears, as to be scarcely legible; but the eye of affectionate parental anxiety deciphered it as follows:
“My dear Father, -I can no longer bear the sight of those I have deceived, nor can I hold any further communication with you on the subject of my future life. My plans are laid ; and before you are aware of my departure, I shall be beyond the reach of inquiry. You will probably hear of me no more; but I can never forget you all, or the home of my childhood, as I pray God, for your own sakes, you may forget me.”
Thus abruptly ended the letter, to which there was no signature, and thus were the loving hearts of parents, brother, and sisters left in entire uncertainty as to the fate of one so cherished and beloved. A long silence succeeded, unbroken even by tears; for consternation seemed, for a time, to overpower every other feeling. At length the attention of all was directed to Mr. F-, in whom the strong effort to control outward emotion had produced faintness. On recovering, he requested to be led into his study, but the affectionate concern of his wife and family would not permit them to leave him; there, as with one heart and voice, they poured forth their supplications for divine guidance and support, and, like the psalmist of old, found in their God “a very present help.” Rising from their knees, they endeavoured, by consultation, to arrange some plan of inquiring for their fugitive, not with any hope of arresting his steps, but as a satisfaction to their own minds. All search, however, proved vain ; but their attempt at investigation brought to light a sad course of profligacy and gambling which he had followed, and in which he had been encouraged by a wild youth, whose acquaintance he had formed unknown to the family.
Under this aggravation of their trial Mr. F- seemed the first to sink, and with the patriarch Jacob to exclaim, “ All these things are against me;" but his wife, true to woman's nature, when, as in the character of wife and mother, she lives for others' happiness, with beautiful self-devotion smothered ner own sorrows to cheer and animate those dearer than her
THE ENGLISH MONTHLY TRACT SOCIETY, 27, RED LION SQUARE LONDON.
life, and expressed her strong belief that all was well, and that they were being led " by a way which they knew not” nearer to Him who says to all His people, " My son, give me thine heart ;" for if that heart be bound by too strong a tie to an earthly idol, be it child or be it parent, some dispensation, severely felt, but sent in mercy, is often the means of recalling that divided love to the one Almighty Being who alone is worthy of it. For a few days Mr. F. was confined to his room by frequent fits of fainting, occasioned by the great shock his nervous system had sustained; but prayer and reflection again composed his spirit, and as all around him exerted every effort to console and support him, so did he, in his turn, by calmly conversing on their trial, and tracing it to a Father's hand, help to dry the tears which at times each one shed.
But to proceed with our narrative. All inquiries respecting Edward were, as has been stated, vain ; and by degrees the fond hearts he left behind, so deeply deploring his loss, which they never ceased doing, were restored to outward tranquillity, though not to their wonted cheerfulness. But it was plainly to be seen that a marked change had taken place in each member of the family, and in none more than Mr. F
After the first excitement attendant on Edward's sudden departure had subsided, his name, as if by a mutual understanding, was seldom mentioned, except (and mark well the exception) at family prayer. That each one remembered him in every private supplication there can be no doubt; but, my young reader, reflect for a moment on this—for twenty-three years, at their morning and evening devotions, was this poor wanderer borne on the hearts of those he had deserted before the throne of Grace. But during this space of time what changes had taken place ? Think not that all had gone on unaltered : death had entered the family, and borne away three of its members. Mrs. F was the first to answer the summons. She died after a few days' illness, rejoicing in her Saviour's all-sufficiency, and expressing a firm belief that the child of so many prayers would yet be saved, encouraging all around her to persevere even to the end, and almost with her expiring breath uttering these words, “At evening time it shall be light."
The youngest daughter, whose tender spirit had twined itself closely round the object of, perhaps, the purest love earth knows, that between a brother and sister, never seemed to recover the shock his last cruel act of sudden departure had inflicted, but sunk under a disease whose first symptoms were so slow and insidious, that they had gained ascendency not to be subdued before their existence was suspected, but whose long and weary stages were cheered by the Saviour's love and presence, and a hope which never failed, because built upon a firm trust in the faithfulness of God, that their prayers would be answered in His own good time and way, and that the wandering outcast on earth would, through boundless mercy, find rest in heaven. With less of cheerfulness, but with perfect composure and submission, did the spirit of Mr. F- answer the summons. He, too, lingered long, and calmly traced the approaches of death in each new symptom. His trust in God never failed. He acknowledged His wisdom as well as love in the dispensation that beclouded the evening of his days, and with deep self-abasement entreated forgiveness if, as in the case of Eli, his own mismanagement of the child intrusted to him had brought on them both the displeasure of an offended God. Thus, though never permitting His faithful servant to doubt his own acceptance, or question the necessity for the enduring chastisement which, as a parent, he deplored, did the Almighty, for purposes of His own, in a measure withdraw from him the light of His countenance. Unconverted man might ascribe this state of feeling to natural temperament, but the Christian desires to trace everything to the hand of God, and would believe that this abiding tenderness of spirit and deep humiliation were part of the discipline appointed by the Almighty to purify the soul.
After the decease of their parents, Edward's eldest brother and sister continued to reside in the same house. Mr. Charles F was unfitted for active pursuits by his very delicate health, and merely managed a small farm for amusement. The daily prayer for Edward was still perseveringly offered, and now that parent's ear could no longer be pained, his name was occasionally breathed; and God was about to reward these, His waiting servants, whose faith in His promises had never failed, even in the darkest hour of their affliction. It was on the fifteenth anniversary of Mrs. F.
-'s death, a day ever solemnly and affectionately remembered by the remaining members of the family, and when, as on each other such occasion, the prayer had been offered with almost more than usual earnestness and plainness of language, that all who had once assembled around that family altar might meet where prayer is exchanged for praise, and, lost in wonder and in love at the contemplation of the mercy which redeemed them, should remember no more of the trials and sorrows of the way by which they were led than would show that Infinite Wisdom planned the whole. In the supplication that morning Edward's name had been uttered, and the request made that he might, like the prodigal, be brought home; yea, even if, like him, he had been living riotously, he might also confess, with penitence, that “ he had sinned." The subject was one of heart-felt interest; and on that anniversary, perhaps, peculiarly so. Mr. and Miss F. with their faithful domestics, rose from their knees in tears. They had scarcely recovered their composure and commenced breakfast, when a servant re-entered, informing his master that a poor man at the kitchen-door requested to see him. This was a circumstance of almost daily occurrence, for Mr. Charles F lent a ready ear to the tale of sorrow or suffering. He rose from table without delay, and followed, but on entering the hall was surprised to find his servant speaking to the man there, and reproving him for having left the kitchen during his absence. The stranger leaned, as if for support, against the wall by the study, the door of which he had pushed open, and not perceiving Mr. Charles F's approach, he laid his hand on the servant's arm, overcome by emotion, faintly uttering, “ Then, John, you don't know me, or you would not thus repulse me from my father's house. I deserve it. 0 God! Thou knowest I deserve it.” Mr. Charles F. drew near; but recognised no one look of Edward in the sick and abject-looking man before him. No sooner, however, did their eyes meet than the long-lost wanderer—for he, indeed, it wassunk insensible at his brother's feet.
“Is it Master Edward ? " exclaimed the servant; "it cannot be; so weak and old !”
“ It is, it is, my heart tells me so," replied Mr. C. F-; “ I felt his glance, and heard his tones in the last words he uttered. God be praised for His mercy and faithfulness.” He revived a little, and was led into the breakfast-room, intimation having been sent to Miss — that a stranger was coming, who, immediately on his entrance, with the quick discernment a sister's love inspires, rushed into his arms, exclaiming, “ Thank God, our dear lost brother !” All sunk on their knees, and though no word was uttered, for emotions of the deepest kind seemed to forbid it, yet did their mute thankfulness and silent acknowledgment of God's goodness and faithfulness ascend accepted to heaven, where prayer and praise, whether expressed or only trembling in the bosom, alike find entrance.
Before Edward gained power to speak, he drew from his pocket a parcel, and placed it in his sister's hands, which, on opening, she found to be an old and much-worn bible, the gift of his mother in his childhood, and which, in all his wanderings, he had preserved, and now produced, as if to prove his own identity. There, on the discoloured page, still remained his name, as traced by his own dear mother's well-known hand in days when alı seemed bright and joyous to him who now sat, a perfect wreck of his former self, before them : but his exhausted, tremulous frame now excited the warmest apprehensions. The joy of seeing his brother and sister seemed lost in some other and still more engrossing sensation. At length, with strong effort and a look of intense anxiety, he faintly asked, " Is there no one else ?” At once the truth flashed upon their minds. He was fearful of inquiring for his parents. He was gently told that they and his sister were in heaven.
The sequel is soon told. Edward's constitution was rapidly sinking under the effects of warm climates, hardships of every kind, and the torments of an upbraiding conscience, which, by his own confession, had preyed upon him ever since he left home. God had never suffered him to fall into entire forgetfulness of his past errors ; though, in endeavouring to drown the recollection of them, he had frequently plunged into excesses of folly which only added to his sense of guilt; and now, that he was restored to his home, freely forgiven and received by his earthly friends, and humbly seeking pardon of an offended God, though graciously permitted to feel a sense of acceptance through mercy, yet were his remaining days ou earth overshadowed by the bitter recollection of his early disobedience, and a sense of his parents' anguish seemed ever present with him. He lingered nearly two years, giving evidence of sincere repentance and humble faith. Lying, as it were, at the foot of the cross, where none ever perished, his spirit gently passed away to Him who gave it, ransomed and washed in the atoning blood of Christ.
From this striking history mark the faithfulness of God to His promise, as a hearer of prayer, and learn from it to expect an answer, though not, perhaps, in the form or at the time you wish. And oh I may Edward's sad history be a warning to all who read it, that they “honour their father and mother.'
And lastly, endeavour to trace God's hand in every event of your life. How it lightens affliction to be able to say, “ It is from the Lord.” And now, having followed this Christian family through their joys and sorrows on earth, let us for a moment contemplate them, a family in heaven, whither, I believe, they have all assembled, where faith is lost in blessed possession of the peace
and rest which remain for the people of God. May I who write, and you who read, and all dear to each, find an abundant entrance there, also, for our dear Redeemer's sake! Amen.
J. F. SHAW, BOOKSELLER, SOUTHAMPTON ROW, AND
PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON; AND W. INNES, BOOKSELLER, SOUTH HANOVER STREET, EDINBURGH. London: J. & W. RIDER, Printers, 14, Bartholomew Close.