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THE CHILD OF GOD.
heart, baptized only or mainly with the heavenly affections, and the pervading melancholy tenderness that reigned there.
For the heavenly affections were prevalent and living, were quick and active, rarely reached by the blight, whatever it was, that blasted the blossoms of a personal hope. In this respect his religion was the most unselfish that can well be conceived of. There was an inner sanctuary, a holy of holies, in which it lived and reigned as God's fire, for God's love and approbation, though a personal hope that he himself was interested in God's mercy seldom was indulged or expressed during long intervals of the prevalence of his disease; and there was a pall of gloom let down before his spiritual vision that no effort could penetrate. Yet through all this darkness and paralysis of the hopeful part of his being, the sensitive and emotive part remained warm, affectionate, and breathing with heavenly life. The reef on which his hope had struck remained; and the tide of Divine grace, though it flooded every other part of his nature, never rose high enough to set that hope at liberty.
There were long intervals in which he could not even pray; and still, with this petrifaction of his religious existence in that direction, as if indeed the finger of doom had been already laid upon it, there were all the lineaments of a child of God, all the gentleness, humility, meekness, patience,
THE CHILD OF GOD
tenderness of conscience, and gracious heavenly sensibility, that must have been traced, had the spell of his disease been broken, to an uninterrupted communion of the soul with God. It is a most surprising, if not quite solitary instance. It was a miracle of grace almost as wonderful as if the sun in the physical world should be blotted from the heavens, and yet the earth kept rolling on her axis, and producing her accustomed fruits in their seasons. The genealogical chain of Christian graces. and enjoyments so strikingly set forth by Paul in the fifth of Romans seemed, in Cowper's case, sundered in the middle, and Hope was dropped out; there was tribulation, patience, experience, but not hope; and though there was undoubted proof of the love of God shed abroad in the heart, yet the sense of this blessing, the witness of the Spirit, and the earnest of the inheritance, seemed wholly wanting. And yet there was the most humble submissiveness to God's will, under this distressing, and sometimes tremendous dispensation.
We have, perhaps, seen such instances ourselves, in men who were never poets, though sincere Christians, and notwithstanding their gloom and darkness, eminent Christians. We have seen a child of God under an impression for years, of almost the profoundest despair, yet so kind, so sympathizing, so conscientious, so benevolent, that others could not doubt, though he himself could never believe
that God was with him as his everlasting Saviour and friend. Such are extreme instances of what that admirable old Puritan writer, Thomas Goodwin, considered with so much carefulness and tenderness in a work given to the subject, which he called "The Child of God walking in Darkness." Such cases are certainly provided for in the Word of God, and may be considered as predicted in some measure in that very striking passage in Isaiah, "Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God." And how sympathizing, gracious, and provident is God in regard to all the distresses of His people, all possible forms of their spiritual as well as temporal evils, in that He has not only given examples in His Word of just such cases, but has mercifully laid down rules both for the encouragement and direction of His afflicted ones, that they may not despair nor ever conclude, as men are apt to do in such trials, that there never was or could be any such case before.
Our theological philosophers, who assert that for a child of God truly fearing the Lord, and desiring in all things to please Him, there never can be such a thing as spiritual darkness, are the worst of all comforters. The asserted rule of such uninterrupted light and enjoyment is almost as bad as the
THE CHILD OF GOD
law of the Ten Commandments for life and salvation; it strikes you dead; and if all is sin in the Christian life that is not light and enjoyment, some of the humblest, most contrite, most devoutly breathing and holy walking souls that ever lived, have lived long intervals in sin, even when panting after God as the hart panteth after the waterbrook. Most true it is, and forever blessed be the Lord's name, for the assurance that he that followeth Him shall not walk in darkness, but shall have THE LIGHT OF LIFE. But equally true it is that the light of life may be within the soul, and also upon its path, and yet the eye of the soul may be so holden as not to see and know a present Saviour, nor have the assurance of an interest in him. For a long, long time, this was the case in Cowper's experience.
Yet, even in the midst of his own darkness, he could encourage others, and reason with delightful Christian wisdom, tenderness, and truth, on cases somewhat similar to his own. In a letter to Newton concerning the doubts of his beloved wife as to her own interest in heavenly things, Cowper says, "None intimately acquainted with her as we have been, could doubt it. She doubted it, indeed, herself; but though it is not our duty to doubt, any more than it is our privilege, I have always considered the self-condemning spirit, to which such doubts are principally owing, as one of
WALKING IN DARKNESS.
the most favorable symptoms of a nature spiritually renewed."
Cowper would often address letters of sympathy and consolation to afflicted friends, as, for example, to Dr. Bagot, Mr. Hurdis, Hayley, and others, and as he never wrote what he did not feel, and never out of mere compliment either to the dead or the living, we can not but find in his references to the time of an anticipated happy meeting in a better world, a proof that amid all his personal despair he was still the "prisoner of hope" himself and kept in the bottom of his heart something of the encouragement he gave to others. To Dr. Bagot, in sympathy for a fresh and common sorrow, he says: "Both you and I have this comfort when deprived of those we love; at our time of life, we have every reason to believe that the deprivation can not be long. Our sun is setting too, and when the hour of rest arrives, we shall rejoin your brother, and many whom we have tenderly loved, our forerunners into a better country." Cowper wrote this in a season of gloom, in 1793.
Of another instance of spiritual distress, in which Cowper took a deep concern, he thus writes to Mr. Newton: "I have no doubt that it is distemper. But distresses of mind that are occasioned by distemper are the most difficult of all to deal with. They refuse all consolation, they will hear no reason. God only, by His own immediate impressions,