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the habit of walking to the house of God in company with his mistress, following her into her pew and lying at her feet there during the whole of the service. Two of her daughters were lying in the quiet graveyard of the kirk to which she went; others were married, and all her sons and daughters were now away from the old home and their mother; but still she need not have been reduced to the sole companionship of Bruce, for her husband was living and in good health, and each Sabbath, as his wife, in her loneliness, traversed the road to the kirk, might be seen in his own little den at home busily engaged with his weekly accounts, or walking through his fields with a keen look-out over the state of his crops and flocks.
It had not always been so. For years after his marriage John Duncan was never willingly absent from his place in the family pew on the Sabbath, and it was a goodly sight to see the group of tall handsome sons and daughters surrounding their fine-looking parents, and all engaging reverently in the service of God's house. But when death entered the home and took away, one after another, its fairest daughters, Lily and Marian, the effect was widely different on the two parents. Esther Duncan took her sore heart to Jesus, that its vacant places might be filled with His consolations; and so trial wrought in her character its appointed ministry of blessing. John Duncan, on the contrary, would not “hear the rod;" he turned impatiently from the teaching of sorrow, questioning God's right to take away “what He had first given," and closing his heart against the true riches, he opened it to the love of earthly gain, and very soon it was hardened by the trampling feet of worldly cares.
It was like the bitterness of death to Esther to see the best part of her husband's nature thus defaced; and only God knew how she wrestled in prayer for him. But the answer tarried, and under the burden of her sorrow the "earthly house" grew more and more infirm, even though the immortal tenant was renewed day by day, God being
the strength of her heart when all earthly sources of comfort and strength failed,
At length there came a Sabbath when Esther's tottering steps could scarcely carry her to the house of God, and she would have been quite unable to reach home again but for the friendly help of a neighbour's arm. Bruce looked pityingly into her face, and wagged his tail in mute sympathy; and when, soon afterwards, she kept her room, and then her bed altogether, he established himself there as chief attendant, and never quitted his post until the meek, patient sufferer heard the glad summons, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord," and laid down the weary burden of life she had borne so bravely.
John Duncan's heart was greatly softened by his wife's death. As he looked on the quiet face in its last peaceful sleep, thoughts of the sorrow he had caused her by his forgetfulness of God filled him with remorse, and with the vain longing shared by so many in the presence of deaththat he could undo the past. He seemed to hear again her last words: “Dear John, I am going to heaven, and I shall watch for you ; you will let me see you coming, won't you? Don't mind so much about riches, dear ! nothing seems to me of any importance now but the 'unsearchable riches of Christ.''
And the gracious Spirit powerfully wrought on his heart through their means, and influenced him to give to his wife's dying request a respect that he had not usually granted to her wishes during her life.
But the habits of years were strong upon him, and by the time that the funeral was over and the Sabbath came again, he had almost forgotten his better purposes, and when the sound of the bell from the distant kirk reached his ears he was preparing for his customary walk round his farm. Just then he saw Bruce set off at a quiet, sedate pace from the front door to the garden gate, and turn down the road in the direction of the church.
How often, with an uneasy twinge of conscience, he had watched the faithful creature follow his mistress along the same path ; where could he be going now? With a sudden impulse he followed, caught sight of him at the turning of the road proceeding with the same measured movement, and kept him in view until he reached the kirk.
By this time John Duncan was close behind, and as Bruce, without a moment's pause, passed through the open door and walked up the aisle to the family pew, the thought came into his master's mind, “ Poor Bruce ! he shall not be in the pew all by himself this morning; if he takes his place. I will take mine."
In that quiet country place everybody knew everyone else, and there was a general feeling of interest and curiosity amongst friends and neighbours in the congregation at John Duncan's appearance there. But he took no heed of any. thing around him, but as he sat down in the pew, where for so many years his wife had sat alone, an overwhelming sense of his neglect and unkindness broke over his heart, and bowing his head on the front of the seat he wept as he had never done since he was a boy, as he had never thought to weep again. His wife had gone beyond the reach of his bitter penitence; no words of his could ever tell her how he had “sinned against heaven," and her. But God was near him still; he realised in that solemn moment how in the past years he had dishonoured Him by his backsliding and rebellion, and the heartfelt cry went up to heaven, “ God be merciful to me a sinner.”
Ah, that is the cry that causes the gate of Divine mercy to be flung wide open. No one can truly utter it but by the gracious enlightenment of the Holy Spirit ; and when He convinces of sin He will surely go on in His work, and testify to the poor conscience-stricken sinner of an allpowerful and all-loving Saviour.
John Duncan's future life proved this. He returned to his solitary home that day with a new purpose in life: to seek first the kingdom of God. And though his softened heart missed all the more sorely the wife who would so have rejoiced over the change in him, he had the companionship of Him who so truly says to His people, “I will not leave you comfortless." And wherever he went Bruce was at his side, master and dog growing old together; and many times pointing to the faithful creature lying at his feet, he would startle casual visitors by saying, “ That is my best earthly friend; he led me to the Saviour.”
Is there not great encouragement in this narrative for those who are praying for unconverted relatives ? It teaches so strongly that God is never at a loss for a messenger. Stars, birds, animals, fishes, stormy winds, can all be pressed into His service; and if we lay our petition at His feet we may confidently leave to Him the time and manner of the answer, resting on the sure word of promise : “ Call unto Me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.”
M. C. F.
God is Love.
LOVE Thee, Jesus; I have found at last
The love that blotteth out the bitter past.
And I shall see Thee ! see Thee as Thou art !
My sins, though scarlet, will be blotted clear
Looking Down—Looking Up.
He healing of the poor woman whose story we are
considering is one of the miracles performed by the Lord Jesus Christ without special request
from the sufferer. “ He called her to Him." We cannot think there had been no wish in her heart to be relieved from her distressing infirmity, but we may well conclude that, after eighteen years of suffering, she had grown in some sort accustomed to her crippled condition, and, believing there was no help for her from earthly physicians, had given up any hope of relief from her physical infirmity. We can fancy that some rumour of the wonder-working Man may have reached her, and the light of hope may have been rekindled by the thought, "If He would only pass by this way; if I could only get near Him !" The meeting with Jesus must have filled her soul all the more with thankfulness as she glorified God. Here is a comfort for us.
“Prayer is the soul's sincere desire,
Úttered or unexpressed ;
That trembles in the breast.”
and He who reads our inmost thoughts often gives us "an answer of peace," to shame the weak faith that hardly dared frame the wish into a prayer. Oh, what a blessed thing to hear the voice of Jesus calling us to come close to Him, that He may bless us, may do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think!
“I heard the voice of Jesus say,
• Come unto Me, and rest;
Thy head upon My breast.'
Weary and worn and sad;
And He has made me glad."