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[The following narration, which was first printed in the Christian World, seems to me adapted to exercise a useful influence, by presenting a faithful transcript of the experience of an individual soul. For this reason only do I desire its circulation ; and for this reason, I am confident that she to whom it refers would readily consent, could she be consulted, to its publication in the present form. - J. F. C.]
THE CONVERTED SKEPTIC.
" To humbleness of heart descends
This prescience from on high,
Before and when they die,
A court for Deity.”
Some months after my arrival in ****, I became acquainted with a lady who had just come to the place to teach. She was a very intelligent and accomplished person ; she had been very successful as a teacher in other places, and immediately obtained a full school. It was however reported of her that she was an infidel, and some of the parents who designed to send their children to her called on her to see the extent of her heresy. They began by asking her whether she believed that there was a God. “No,” she replied, “I do not believe that there is a God, - I know that there is a God.” This answer will indicate some traits of her character. She had a very clear understanding. What she believed, she believed with a conviction almost amounting to knowledge. What she could not see distinctly, no threat or allurement could induce her to profess.
She was indeed a seeker. She had one of the most ardent, active, and truth-loving minds I have ever encountered. Amid weariness and disease, when she seemed entirely exhausted by her labors, or oppressed by cares, she would always rise refreshed at the suggestion of a new thought, or to engage in any new study.
She was, however, a Deist. She had a reverence for the character of Jesus, and a profound belief in the divinity of many of his doctrines, for they approved themselves to her reason and heart. But she could not understand nor accept the supernatural part of revelation. Miracles were stumbling-blocks to her mind. Nor did she feel the necessity of more faith than she then possessed. To her mind, religion was obedience to the laws of God, made known in our constitution and in the course of things. Mental and moral culture she thought sufficient to perfect our nature, and she had devoted her life, thus far, with an earnest and generous enthusiasm, to cultivate thus her own nature, and that of others. She was a sincere philanthropist. She desired the good of her race, and was glad to contribute to it according to her opportunities.
This was her state of mind when I first knew her. But circumstances soon occurred to produce some change in her feelings, and to induce her to feel somewhat more the desirableness of faith in revelation. These circumstances arose from the condition of her school. Her plan of government had always been to appeal to the reason and affections of her pupils. Coercion and punishment she had never used. And in New England, where she had formerly taught, she had always succeeded by this mode. Her pupils were her friends, and she had an unbounded influence over their affections. But in ****, the case was different. She was here suddenly introduced to sixty or seventy girls, who had never been accustomed to this mode of government, who were controlled very little at home, who were insensible to her kindness, and had no interest in study, nor any ambition to excel. Her school was consequently a scene of disorder, which all her great energy and devoted efforts could only to a small extent correct. She, however, determined to be true to her principles. If she could not produce order and obedience by an appeal to reason and affection, she would not have it. But by degrees, the parents, who did not understand her system or disapproved of it, removed their children. The school, which had been very popular, be came unfashionable, and dwindled away.
She reflected on the cause of this failure. What was the difference between the Western children and those she had formerly taught in New England, which made the latter so much more tractable ? It was not in natural intelligence, - the Western girls were quite as bright as the Eastern, perhaps more so. It was not in the affections, -the Western girls were full of sentiment and feeling. She found it to be the absence of habits of reverence; a defect she perceived, not only in the children, but throughout society. Children had little reverence for parents, teachers, elders ; the ignorant, little respect for the wise. Neither age, rank, character, past services, wisdom, reputation, nor virtue commanded the respect which was their due. The virtue of the Western char
acter was its independence ; its vice, this absence of rev
And she at last was forced to ascribe this defect to the absence of that religious training, that deep religious inflence, which surrounded the childhood, youth, and age of the inhabitant of New England. She then, for the first time, felt how important that influence was, how much she herself, and others, owed to it, unconsciously. This influence came from Christianity, might there not then be more good in Christianity than -she had supposed ?
Personal experiences contributed to strengthen this feeling. Disappointed and deeply tried in her school, – a stranger in a place where she found little sympathy, she felt the need of a greater spiritual support than ever before. As earthly hopes seemed failing her, she needed a heavenly. She suddenly felt a strong desire to be able to appropriate with full faith to herself the promises of the Gospel. She now wished that Christianity were true, as she had not before.
Yet she was not a person to suffer her mind to be blinded by her heart. Many and many were the conversations which we held together on this subject, which always ended with the declaration on her part,
“I never can believe in the resurrection of Jesus” ; and on my part, with the request that she would not yet give up her endeavours to attain to this belief, and the assurance of my own strong conviction that she would yet become a believer. I urged her to pray for light and guidance. She consented to make one prayer, and that she constantly made, morning and evening, -"O Lord ! if the religion of Christ be from thee, help me to receive it." This was the substance, for some months, of her daily prayer.