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On these occasions, this excellent woman would give her little pupil such views of the last millennial glory, and of that blessed time when judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field, and the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for
he would often say, “ Dear aunt, when will these things be? O that the chief Shepherd would come very soon, and gather his flock together!”
But, were I to enter into all the various views of Scripture which Mrs. Mary Stephens gave to her little pupil, I should be compelled to protract my narrative to an unwarrantable length. Suffice it therefore to say, that this good woman, always bearing in mind that she was educating a minister, considered, that if, through her negligence and ignorance, his character did not attain to that extent of usefulness which it might, otherwise, have reached, she might justly be numbered among those of whom it is said, Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! (Matt. xviii. 7.)
Resolved, with the divine blessing, to set her whole heart to the work, and to spare no effort by which she might advance the spiritual welfare of her little nephew, when Edmund had entered his tenth year, his aunt thought she ought no longer to delay placing him under the care of some person who could carry on his education in those branches of knowledge, for the teaching of which she was herself incompetent. Accordingly, she enquired for the schoolmaster of the highest repute in the town, and placed her boy under his care as a dayscholar. By this arrangement, she enjoyed some of his company every day, and was able to continue her plan of religious instruction in some degree as formerly. She found, however, when her little pupil entered more into the world, and was made to learn most of his lessons in books the tendency of which was not religious, that she had a more difficult task in instructing him, than when all he heard was promotive of that which is right.
It is often asserted, that such and such a book is perfectly innocent, although its tendency is no way pious: but perhaps it may afterwards be found, that every book which is not written with a view, more or less, to the
support of Christian morals on Christian principles, is so far from innocent, that it is decidedly hurtful. It was one of the maxims of Lycurgus, that every man must declare himself of one party or another, and that he who stands neuter, must be considered as an enemy to the state. And, to quote a higher authority to the same purport, our Lord says, " He that is not with ine is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.” (Matt. xii. 30.)
Mrs. Mary Stephens had hitherto brought up her nephew with one simple decided view. She had directed his infant gaze to the Star of Bethlehem; and whenever it seemed to wander from that bright object, she had carefully endeavoured to restore its tendency, and had found some new resource to awaken its attention. She had cherished in the child a pure and simple state of feeling with regard to religion, which she had always represented as the only needful thing, to which every other ought to be entirely subservient.
" Whether you eat, or whether you drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God,” was the one single motive of conduct perpetually impressed on the boy.
Having therefore proceeded thus far with such decided simplicity and perfect success, she was very well able to judge of the effect upon the feelings of little Edmund, when, in the course of common education, ordinary motives of conduct were presented to his young mind. In order, however, if possible, to counteract the hurtful effects of the lessons he daily learned, she accustomed him, every evening, to shew his translations to her, or to construe his exercises in her presence ; and she then endeavoured to explain to him where the heathen writers failed in their ideas of religion and morality, and pointed out in what manner Scripture treated the same subjects, and how it decided on the same points of morality.
Thus this excellent woman in some degree prevented her nephew from being corrupted by false sentiments and worldly instructions; notwithstanding which, she often had reason to lament those arbitrary decrees of the world by which the education of Christian children is so very får removed from Christian simplicity. In the mean time, through the divine blessing on the
pure instructions and conversation of his aunt, Edmund Stephens attained the age of fourteen without yielding to any of the temptations of a public school. Every Christian preceptor must be sensible, that when all that man can do for a pupil has been done, yet that all is so little, and so wholly incapable of effecting the requisite change of heart which must take place ere a soul can be received into glory, that we can hardly wonder if some should despair when they do not immediately see the blessing of God
upon their labours. Nevertheless, those who have faith in Him who has said, I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring; and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water-courses, (Isaiah xliv. 3, 4,) will not be weary
of well-doing; but will persevere in planting and watering, doubting not but that the increase will be given in its due season.
Such, however, being the case, it should be a matter of peculiar thankfulness when a parent or teacher finds the divine blessing attending immediately upon his work. This was a favour especially bestowed upon Mrs. Mary Stephens; and her nephew, at fourteen years of age, displayed a decision of character not often attained by advanced Christians. Nevertheless, this excellent boy never pushed himself forward to public observation : his good qualities, therefore, passed unobserved, in general, by those about him; and if his masters and schoolfellows thought of him at all, it was merely as of an harmless, inoffensive little fellow, who had nothing in him.
To be thought harmless and inoffensive, is, however, a matter much to be desired, although the world thinks little of it. It is what Christians should seek to be; and many greatly mar their usefulness by making themselves otherwise, either by over forwardness, or by a coarse and unamiable carriage. Edmund had been taught by his aunt, from his earliest childhood, that this world was not to be his home or his resting-place, and that he must, as a Christian, shun occasions of being praised or admired, or of bringing himself forward as an object of attention. On this principle he accordingly acted; and, in consequence, pursued his quiet course little regarded by any one.
Edmund had remained at school till his fourteenth year without forming any particular attachment; for there was so marked a difference between his general mode of thinking and acting and those of the other boys, that nothing like friendship had as yet grown between him and any individual among them: but at this time, a boy came to the school, a little older than himself, who had something in his general appearance which attracted Edmund, though he knew not wherefore.
This boy, by name Francis Parnel, was the son of a country curate. His father's family were esteemed pious, and Francis entered the school with the character of being a very religious boy; indeed, this character had been indiscreetly given of him by his father when he introduced him to the master in the presence of the other boys.
Whether Francis was or was not this pious boy at that time, we do not wish to decide; but certainly he wanted some of the best evidences of true religion. Although far from being a handsome or elegant boy, or even particularly clever, he had a high opinion of himself, and was acutely alive to every indignity which might be put upon him; nay, he was very apt to fancy some circumstance in the most common accident indicative of disrespect to himself. He was, in short, precisely such a character as the common run of schoolboys love to torment.
Young Parnel had been told by his father that he would be persecuted for his religion at school, but that he hoped he would stand firm, like the martyrs of old. From being thus indiscreetly addressed, the boy fell into two mistakes: one was, that he fancied himself to be a very advanced Christian; and the other, that every
other boy in the school was a decided profligate, and that a violent persecution would infallibly break out against him as soon as he should evince his own decided Christian character. Agreeably, therefore, with these views of himself and of his schoolfellows, the first time it occurred to him that he ought to read his Bible, instead of quietly withdrawing to his usual place, and taking out his Bible without parade, he placed himself in a very public part of the room, and whenever any boy came near him, declared, in a determined and resolute manner, that he considered himself ill used in being thus frequently interrupted while reading the Scriptures.
This was indeed a spice of the same spirit as that which led some of the early Christians to the stake, when even their enemies would rather that they should have made their escape.
As might be expected, the spirit of persecution was soon excited against poor Francis to the utmost extent of his ambition, and he was made to undergo an incredible number of petty torments for one whole evening; all of which he endured with the patience of a martyr. But when these vexations were renewed in the morning, poor Francis Parnel's Christian heroism wholly forsook him; and when Edmund Stephens arrived at school from his aunt's lodgings, he found the whole play-ground in an uproar, and Francis Parnel dealing out his blows in such right good earnest, that he had already endowed two or three of his schoolfellows with the marks of his prowess.
Edmund was not a little surprised to find the new comer (whom he had been taught to suppose was to set an example of every thing that was Christianlike) engaged in a warfare like this, and that with
with whom he had scarcely spent twenty-four hours: but when he was made to understand the occasion of this furious contest, he was still more astonished; and particularly because he himself had been in the habit of carrying a Pocket-Bible, and using it publicly, ever since he came to the school, and had never met with
other symptom of persecution on that account, than now and then a significant glance or wink, given by one boy to another, with some kind of expression of mock commendation of Edmund Stephens's piety. Edmund was therefore much surprised to find the spirit of persecution suddenly grown to so formidable a height; neither could he help attributing it to the right cause, namely, the offensive manner of the persecuted party.
Edmund was, however, equally hurt by the little command which Francis Parnel seemed to have over himself, and by the open breaking out of profane expressions which this want of self-command in the young Christian had produced in the school; and by this scene he was suddenly and practically convinced of a truth which his aunt had often stated to him—that nothing so thoroughly and completely mars the influence of religion