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A TALE OF HARD TIMES.
"Make me a little cake first."-1 Kings xvii. 13.
T was a season of grievous distress throughout the Phoenician borders. In vain did the merchant princes of Tyre and Sidon spread out their wares to tempt their neighbours of Asher and Naphtali to traffic in their marts. No caravans laden with "wheat of Minnith, and Pannag, and honey, and oil, and balm," wound through the passes of Lebanon; no joyful son of Issachar cheered his mule, crouching between two burdens" of olives, destined for the bazaars of Accho. The earth was burned with drought. For many months there had been no rain in all the land of Israel. Nature withered; the surface of the plains became powder and dust; and famine lay sore upon man and beast. Those were "hard times" in Samaria and Galilee; hard even for the rich, and much more so for the poor. In a little town on the declivity of Lebanon, in sight of the sea, lived a woman and her son. Through all the trials and distress which came so heavily upon the community, she had toiled on; for when did ever a mother cease her struggles against want and despair, while the image of a beloved child was before her, to nerve her for the effort? But every resource was at length exhausted. Wasted with grief and famine, even a mother was ready to abandon the struggle for life; and collecting her last handful of meal, she went outside the gate to gather sticks, that she might go in and dress it, for herself and her son, that they might eat it and die.
While she was engaged in this melancholy service, she was accosted by a venerable stranger, "a hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins," who, on learning her circumstances, bade her go and do as she had purposed; but, said he, in a tone that at once awed and revived her spirit, "Make me thereof a little cake first." She obeyed his word, and God blessed her in her obedience; for her barrel of meal did not waste, nor her cruise of oil fail, as long as those hard times lasted.
The widow of Zarephath wins our praise for the simplicity of her faith, and affords us a model for our imitation. From her humble history we learn, that the present are not the only "hard times" that the world has seen, nor are we the first embarrassed
people that have been called on, in the depths of poverty, to help the cause of the Lord, by parting with a portion even of the little property that is left us.
Professing Christians, it was easy for you to give money when you were flushed with prosperity; and perhaps you thought yourself liberal, and in your heart blessed your own generous philanthropy. But what you then gave was no great test of love to God. Which of all your donations cost you any real sacrifice? When did you ever go the more hungry or weary to your bed, or endure cold, or lie awake an hour at night, that you might increase your charities?
Circumstances are changed. The "times are hard," and you are comparatively-perhaps absolutely-poor. And now comes the trial of your faith; you cannot escape it. To your door, as really as to the gate of Zarephath, the Lord's cause comes and asks for relief; and to you, as to the widow, it brings a promise with it. Will you believe? Will you obey? Are you ready to divide your last morsel with the suffering Saviour, not taking any for yourself, until you shall have made for Him "a little cake first"?
Do you say, "There are others whose property has escaped the general wreck; go to them." So said not the poor widow to Elijah, though doubtless there were many in her city whose mansions glittered in her sight, comparatively unvisited by want. The greater your poverty the less able are you to do without God's blessing upon the liberal soul.
Perhaps you are in doubt how much is required of one in your circumstances. Know then, that you must give at least enough to prove to your own conscience, that you esteem His cause the most precious interest in the universe, that it commands the first place in your affections, and the first-fruits of your increase.
And how knowest thou but that this "little cake," this token of supreme regard consecrated to God first of all, though it be even but a mite (Mark xii. 41-44), may secure the rest, for all the copious blessing of Elijah's God shall forbid thy meal to waste, or thine oil to fail, as long as the "pressure is upon the land?
Try the experiment, in the spirit of humble, filial faith, of serving God FIRST in all your expenditures. When you are about to lay out anything for yourself, pause, and listen if there be not a whisper, having in it no less of love than of authority, saying, "Make me thereof a little cake first." And do not refuse because you are poor; spare a little, at least, " A LITTLE for Him who gave Himself for you. Taste no indulgence, make provision for no necessity till you can feel that in every case you have made for your Master " a little cake first."
"SEEK YE FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD."
A MOCKER." Wine is a mocker" (Prov. xx. 1). It promises us strength, and it mocks us with weakness; it promises health, and it mocks us with disease; it promises happiness, and it mocks us with misery. Its promises are lies, and its pretences are cheats. The more we use it, the more we think we need it. It deceives us concerning our true condition. It makes us feel well when we are sick, and leaves us sick when we ought to be well. No thoughtful man wishes to feel well, unless he is well. Such deception leads to over-action, and results in ruin. Leave the mocker alone. Beneath the glitter of its fascinating eye there coils and crawls the form of the destroying reptile. "At the last, it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder." Beware of the Mocker.
A TRUE STORY.
ROBABLY those of my readers who live in the environs of London, have noticed with wonder, tall, stout, well-dressed men trudging past them, with a shouldered stick bearing at its extremity a square, black, calico-covered parcel. By the poor, these men are called "tallymen," but I believe if you were to consult them personally, you would be told they rejoiced in the name of "Scotch merchants." Whatever their name may be, there is no doubt about their being the pest of the labouring class and the ruin of many a happy home; and as Job Coulter's story will illustrate my subject, I shall give it as simply as I can.
Job was one of those individuals who are the pride of England, and whose character if once lost can seldom be redeemed. He earned some sixteen shillings a-week, had a snug, decently furnished cottage, a tidy wife, a young family, and a warm honest heart. Like many of his class, he handed his weekly wages over to Mrs. Coulter, content to find his homely meal in readiness when he returned from a long day's work. Job seldom if ever went inside a public-house, preferring the clean comfort of his own fireside, and the cheery smile of his good wife. Taking it all in all, Job's home gave a pretty good idea of an earthly paradise. But the very name of paradise suggests the serpent, and the rustic Eden only too soon showed his presence.
Job Coulter was as usual at his work; Mrs. Coulter was ironing the week's wash, when a broad-shouldered, black wiskered tallyman tapped at the door. "Want any nice cheap gownds to-day, m'm?" he asked, stepping over the threshold, and depositing the pack upon a chair; then taking off his Jim Crow hat, he wiped his forehead, and looked round the room.
"No, I thank you, sir," said Mrs. Coulter, a little confused, for the man was dressed smartly, and wore a chain and ring.
"Jest take a look; we don't charge anything for that, m'm;" and the pack strings being untied, the contents were spread out upon the table. "That's a neat article, now," said the tallyman, seeing the direction Mrs. Coulter's eyes turned, " and dirt cheap. Make you a splendid church-goin' gownd: and I can wait for the cash. Say you'll have it, and you can pay me five shillings a-month till it's done for. You'll never miss it out of the house money, you know."
Mrs. Coulter remembered her neighbour's smart new dress last Sunday, and hesitated. We all know how such hesitation generally ends. The tallyman left the cottage without the dress, and Job's wife went back to her ironing with her mind full of plans as