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“OH, IF I COULD ONLY REMEMBER THAT PRAYER !"
“ WHAT WAS THAT PRAYER HE TAUGHT ME?"
On the first of January, 1855, as I was walking through the village of my residence upon pastoral duties, I met a young man twenty-two years of age, whose pale countenance and feeble step showed the destroyer had been at work with him. He had not been out before for two months, and now, when he endeavoured to persuade himself that he was really better, his new strength was but the excitement of the day. It was the holiday of his childhood; and a sad smile passed over his countenance as he looked at the children scrambling for nuts and candy, that fell in showers before the confectioner's door ;-it was but a shadow, showing that the sunshine was not yet entirely gone from his heart.
I turned away from him with a sigh. Poor man! His mother, a sweet Christian, ended her pilgrimage when he was yet a boy, and left him to the care of a godless father, with the legacy of her prayers and pious example.
He was a dear boy, and the whole neighbourhood had marked his devotion to his suffering mother, especially during her last ill
He had always accompanied her to church, and regularly attended his Sabbath-class ; but, very soon after the guardian of his childhood had been called away, he began, with his Christless parent, to depart from the sanctuary and forget the Sabbath.
His companions were those who stood " in the way of sinners” and walked“ in the counsel of the ungodly.” They "enticed," and he “consented," and so ran the whole round of careless indifference to the claims of God and the gospel. There was no apparent change in his disposition ; quiet and inoffensive, he talked
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but little, and, though he learned to lounge and squander away many precious hours in the bar-room and the grocery, yet he never learned either to smoke or to drink. Sometimes, indeed, he took the name of God in vain, and it would have been strange if he had not, for many a time have I heard his wicked father, in his own house, cursing his children as a madman; but an oath was always awkward in his mouth, as any approach to God, save by the “swearer's prayer," is in the mouth of the blasphemer.
He was the eldest of four children, and his father was a daylabourer, with a comfortable home and a good Christian education.
After the death of his mother he remained at home four or five years as the guardian of his little brothers and sister, while his father want forth to his daily labour; and many a neighbour praised his prudence, his kindness, and his industry. At length his father married a respectable, industrious, and kind-hearted woman, but one “having no hope and without God in the world;" and this boy, now on the verge of manhood, went forth to hew out his own fortune. He started upon a dark path, without lamp or light, for he left his Bible behind him. He had neglected it so long that it was not strange he should have forgotten it. He did not “waste his substance,” as did the prodigal, nor take the reward of iniquity, as did Balaam: he was prudent, and his calling honourable; he only went “into a far country,” strayed into the wilderness, and closed his ear to the voice of the Good Shepherd. Often had he heard that divine entreaty—“Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not;" but, like thousands of young men, he thought the “evil days” were yet afar off.
At length God's providence overtook him. Far from home, he fell under the power of a wasting disease; and now, forsaken of friends, he tossed through the terrible fever, and, two months before the day I met him on the street, he arrived at his father's door, a wreck, and ready to go down. One disease had yielded only to give place to another more fearful and fatal. Day after day could he be seen walking slowly from room to room of his father's house, or watching the tide of humanity as it swept up and down the street. One day only did he venture forth from the door,-the holiday of the year,—and soon paid the penalty of his imprudence. An hour after his return he lay struggling for breath, and his parents, fearful of his approaching end, sent for me to pray with him, for none in that house knew how to pray. Here was my first acquaintance with his religious history.
For three months I visited him regularly, frequently, and always found him respectful and ready to converse upon the awful realities of eternity just at hand. His disease soon presented fatal symptoms, and none saw them sooner than himself. He gave up all hope of recovery, and knew that at any moment he was liable to be called to judgment. The hammer of time was striking heavily upon the “ golden bowl” beside “the fountain," and the rapid
whirl of the “wheel” at “the cistern" assured him that all would soon be still. He knew his condition; he felt that he was without preparation for death and judgment. He confessed an unshaken confidence in the gospel and the absolute necessity of a personal interest in the blood of Jesus, and never for a single moment did he try to persuade himself that he had such an interest. I prayed with bim day after day, at his own request. I read the Bible to him, and presented, in conversation, again and again, the plan of salvation in every light of which I could conceive. I sought out all the precious promises of God to lost sinners that weeks of study could suggest. I marked verses and chapters in the Bible to be read to him in my absence, and procured one exposition of the way of salvation after another, for his perusal. His step-mother, now fully interested in his salvation, read to him all that I left. Bunyan and Baxter, Doddridge and James, preached the gospel in his ears; and he listened, he tried to listen, with prayer, and yet day after day found him in the same quiet, thoughtful insensibility, -Jesus no nearer—the way of salvation no clearer—the coming night without a star-and the doom of the lost as real as awful.
Reader, what think you was his difficulty ? Had God become unmindful of his grace and turned away from his covenant? “Let God be true and every man a liar.” “ Had God forgotten to be gracious ?" Oh no; "his tender mercies are over all his works,” and “he has no pleasure in the death of him that dieth.” The fault was in himself alone, and, down to the grave, like Job, he did not charge God foolishly. Did some terrible transgression rise up as a shield of blackness to shut out the heavenly light and house his soul to its everlasting doom? He was never an outbreaking sinner, and knew of no crime he had committed against his fellowman. Was his understanding darkened ? As every sinner's is, until illuminated by the Holy Ghost—no more so. He could readily understand the Bible and books enforcing and explaining it. Was it in his stubborn will, "exalting itself against the knowledge of God," and seeking to establish the righteousness which is of the Law”? He was docile and teachable, willing to be guided in every thing. Was it in a heart hardened by sin and given up to vile lusts and affections? He wept as a child, and “desire” had long since "failed."
Reader, the difficulty was not found specifically in either his intellect, his will, or his affections; it seemed to be all in his MEMORY. His doom was an exposition and an enforcing of that word of God—“Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.” His memory of gospel truth failed him utterly. Verses of Scripture, read in his hearing, he could never repeat a minute after the sound of the words died upon his ear. And though he had learned scores of chapters in the Sabbath-school, I never succeeded in getting him to repeat from memory a single verse. He felt the necessity of praying himself, and desired to pray, but could
not utter a single petition except as it was repeated to him. When a child, and till his mother had been called to her rest, doubtless few nights passed without his uttering that petition so well known in earth and heaven,
“Now I lay me down to sleep;
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;" but now he could not recall a single line of it. No effort was spared to teach him to pray, and he felt if he could only pray there might be mercy. Now the lesson was in the simplest words, as Jesus taught his disciples,—“Our Father;" and now in words suggested by his own expressions of need. I tried to teach him the Prodigal's prayer; it was too long; then the prayer of the dying thief ; it was complex, and dissipated his attention; then the prayer of the Psalmist,—“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew
0 a right spirit within me.” But, however apparently fixed the first petition in his mind, it was immediately removed by the effort to repeat the second. Then the simple prayer of'the disciples,—“Lord, teach us to pray;" but the sense of his necessity, like a wave, seemed to overflow his soul and wash the very words from his memory. Then at last the prayer of the publican,—“God be merciful to me a sinner.” He felt its fitness and repeated it, as a child trying to master a lesson, till weariness would close his eyes; and yet, when the sound of his own voice had died, the words of the prayer seemed borne away upon a wide eternity. For a week before his death I visited him every day, offering with him this one petition,—“God be merciful to me a sinner!" but oh, how sadly and emphatically would he say, “I cannot remember that prayer;
“ I repeat it, and while I speak the words I forget it.”. When asked if the prayer was displaced by other thoughts, he answered, "No." The only exercise of mind of which he was conscious was the effort to recall the forgotten prayer. He asked help of the
. young men, who watched with him as the sands fell rapidly in the measure of his probation ; but they sought in vain for the lost prayer, and his last words, coming as a deep groan from the shadow of death, were—“Oh, if I could only remember that prayer! what was that prayer he taught me ? God—be—!” The "wheel was broken at the cistern,” “the dust returned to the earth as it was, “and the spirit” “unto God who gave it," where, for aught we know, past experience and present consciousness are mingled in a fearful unity to those who remember” not their “Creator in the days of their youth, while the evil days come not."
Reader, this is a sad piece of history. Is it not? Nothing can be more terrible than the sight of a fellow-mortal conscious of his own doom, and calling for help when no earthly power can help and those two Christless companions, to whom he appealed for the lost prayer, doubtless felt it. But, oh, do not turn away from this strange end of a fellow-mortal with the simple tribute of a sigh for his early death and blasted hopes; for there are solemn lessons taught by the history of this human soul. God speaks in it. Will you hear? He speaks to repeat and enforce the direction, “Remember now thy Creator."
1. This history assumes, most emphatically, that “the evil days" may come before old age overtakes you. He had seen only two-andtwenty years; and your evil days may be wholly unconnected with old age. When God says, “ Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth,” he speaks to some who will never see “the days” made "evil” by the weight of years. The fate of this young man sweeps away that indefinite period between youth and old age which, by its very indefiniteness and uncertainty, is likely to prove your ruin. God's Spirit says, “Remember thy Creator while the evil days come not, and the years draw nigh when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.” You have seen enough of old age to assure you there is force in the reason; you know how, among other disadvantages, the memory of the old man leaves him, how the work of yesterday is but as a dream in his mind; you know how he halts, and loses time, and grows weary, looking for the place where he left off in the unfinished task; you know how he lays down his glasses in one place and his Bible in another, and then asks help before he can even begin to study God's truth; you know, too, how strangely his memory treats him, for, while it will keep nothing that is given it now, it is forever bringing before him the follies, enjoyments, and conduct, of his youth. If he had only remembered his Creator then, he could not have forgotten him now.
But now his memory is gone. The history of this young man shows you that memory may fail long before old age hardens the heart and dims the vision. A poor sinner in his two-and-twentieth year died, crying, “Oh, if I could only remember that prayer!”
Labour and sorrow must attend the effort to remember God in old age; it will then be a task without pleasure, if not wholly without reward. Time works strange things with the memory. But, young man, there are other things besides time that make the poor sinner's soul like the quiet waters, reflecting an image only so long as the object is present. There are other things besides old age that harden the sinner's heart, so that God's truth will neither enter nor leave its impression; for this man fell on the threshold of manhood, crying, “I can't remember that prayer."
2. Again : does not this short, sad history teach you that something like judicial forgetfulness may precede“ judicial blindness ?” Reader, instead of being given directly over to hardness of heart, you may be left, in your helplessness, to lean upon a memory obliterated; instead of being suffered to believe a lie,” you may be abandoned to an utter forgetfulness of God's truth and promises ; and though he will never deny his own words, when offered in a sincere prayer, you may not be able even to say “God be merciful