Light at Eventide.
"DRAW the curtain back a little, Annie, dear, that I may see the sun set, and bring your chair nearer to me, and read something—something that will give me comfort." And the sick girl sighed wearily, and turned restlessly on her couch, now watching with a troubled look, her sister's movements, as she hastened to fulfil her requests, now fixing her large, lustrous eyes on the deep bay window of her room, through which the sun, setting with unusual splendour for a Winter's afternoon, was plainly visible.
Yet it was not of the sunset that the young sufferer dreamed, nor of any earthly light, as presently, she softly murmured, ''At evening time, it shall be light, at evening time, it shall be light;" then, with deep feeling, "Oh, Annie, Annie, it is evening time with me now, but it is not light, it is not light!"
Her sister drew closer still, and took the little wasted, burning hand, which rested outside the coverlid, in both of hers, and, as she looked lovingly on the troubled face of the one so dear to her, her own reflected the trouble of it. For a moment, neither spoke, but hand clasped hand more tightly; then the sick girl broke the silence once more.
"Annie, tell me, tell me truly, if you were as I am, if you were dying, would you be afraid? You need not try to contradict me, dear; I know now that I am dying. I heard every word Dr.—— said yesterday. Do not be grieved, my pet sister; it is better I should know, and but for that, I should not have guessed it, even, for I am not so very ill." Her eyes had a questioning look, as though she would fain have asked, could she have made a mistake? in spite of the certainty of her previous tone.
Sorrowfully Annie bowed her head; she had no words. The death-knell to all their hopes for that bright young life had been given the night before, when their kind physician, who had known her all her life, and who loved her like his own child, had said, "It is only a question of a week or two at the longest—not that, even if the disease continues to make the same rapid progress."
This was his judgment, and they had listened to it with the agony only those can understand, who have thus hearkened, once, at any rate, in their lifetime, to words that tell them that the life for which they would gladly lay down, their own is ebbing surely and rapidly away; that no love of theirs, no tender care, can stay the loosing of the "silver cord" which binds the beloved one to earth; but that soon, very soon, the parting which looks so terrible must come.
A half-checked sob had been Annie's only answer to her sister's last words. Each was thinking of the other. Then, as a flood of crimson and golden light poured into the room, the young sufferer returned to her question. "Would you be afraid, Annie?"
"I do not know, Nellie, dear; it is so hard to tell beforehand. I do not think I should, and," she whispered, "you have Jesus, and Jesus will be with you, and carry you through."
"But I am not SURE; and oh, remember, Annie, it is for ever, and for ever, and for ever. I must make no mistakes now. What can I do to be sure?" And, trembling with emotion, her face flushed with excitement, she raised herself slightly on her elbow, and gazed into her sister's face.
"But, Nellie, darling, we came to Jesus, you and I both, did we not? and we read together of His love, and His willingness to receive us, in His own Word. You remember the day when we found out we were sinners and needed a Saviour, and we came to Jesus. I have never doubted since, and I did not think you had."
"I was never sure, as you were, Annie; and last night, when I heard the doctor say I· must die, and die soon, I was terribly afraid. I used to be happy sometimes, when we were singing hymns together, and when ——'s letters came, with the verses of Scripture to meet my dark doubts. I sometimes thought I saw it all for a moment, but the doubts came back; and now I am so afraid, and I cannot find comfort."
"Look to Jesus, Nellie, dear," her sister tremblingly said, hardly knowing, in her deep love, and sorrow, and anxiety, what to say.
"Yes; but, Annie, He might forget me; I've known so little about Him, and I have not served Him. I do not know Him enough to die with, Annie. He might let me go. It is like a big, dark river in front of me, and I am afraid to go down into its deep black waters alone."
The words were spoken almost convulsively, and the slight frame quivered, as though in mortal agonies. Eternity, in all its reality, was before her, everything she had clung to on earth was slipping from her grasp, and there was not the certainty in her soul, that underneath her were the "everlasting arms."
These two sisters, of whom the dying girl was the elder, had but a very short time previously, been awakened to a sense of their lost condition, and their need of a Saviour, through reading a paper in a little monthly periodical. Annie, the younger, had, in simple faith, at once appropriated Jesus as her Saviour—His death, His blood-shedding, as the atonement for her sins. She had no questions, no doubts. At the very moment when she discovered her need, the One who could meet that need was presented to her, and she received Him, and trustfully had clung to Him.
With Nellie, it had been different. Though alive to the fact of her need, she had, as yet, never laid bare her soul before Jesus, and let Him meet it all. There had been reserves in her heart, doubts and questionings in her mind; and now, with death before her, as she said, she did "not know Him enough to die with."
For a moment, as Nellie finished speaking, her sister leaned her head upon her hand, quietly asking the Lord Jesus, she so simply trusted, to come in and lighten the darkness in her sister's soul. Then she said, "Nellie, Jesus does not want you to go down into the dark waters alone; He will go with you. I know Him well enough, to know He will never forget you, never forsake you, if you trust Him. I wish I knew how to tell you better, but I know there is a verse in the Bible that says He will never let any one go, that has come to Him, if only I knew where to find it."
The dying girl had sunk back on her pillow exhausted, but now she once more raised herself, and said eagerly, "Find it, and show it to me in the Bible itself, Annie, for I cannot believe anything else now! Oh, if it only said He would never let me go!" and the burning flush deepened on her cheek.
Afraid of the consequences of such intense excitement, Annie said, soothingly, "Will you not lie still a little while now, and try to be quiet, and to-morrow I will find it, and read it to you."
"To-morrow!" answered Nellie, "I may not be here to-morrow, and I might be in hell. ‘It may be very sudden at the last, and she may go at any moment,"' she added, quoting the doctor's very words. Then, after a moment's pause, "This is not half so bad for me, Annie, as lying thinking of it alone, as I have been all the time, though you did not know it. I cannot rest till I am sure that Jesus will have me, and not let me go."
Annie felt the truth of her words, and, opening her Bible, searched carefully for the verses she wanted; but she was yet young in the faith, and knew very little of the Scriptures, and page after page of the precious book was turned over, and anxiously but unsuccessfully examined, while her sister watched her with almost impatient eagerness.
The short January afternoon was rapidly closing in; the last gleam of sunlight was dying away, and Annie was bending low with her little Bible, that the bright firelight might shine on its pages, when a knock came, and a servant entered with the contents of the evening post-bag.
There were several letters and parcels, but one only, a small pamphlet, tied round with a piece of green string, seemed to have an interest for the dying girl. As soon as the servant had closed the door, after lighting the shaded lamp, and drawing in the curtains, she said, quickly and anxiously, "Perhaps God has a message for me in this, Annie. .He sent us one before through it; open it for me now."·
Surely the Lord, in His pitying love for that poor, anxious, weary heart, sent that silent messenger at that very moment, and in even a more seemingly trivial thing still, connected with it, His heart assuredly planned, His hand guided.
The pamphlet was the monthly number of the same magazine which had brought the message of peace to Annie before. The wrapper that had been tied round the little book was folded in at the thirteenth page, by accident, doubtless, on the part of the sender—by design, surely, on His part, who numbers the very hairs of our head; so that as Annie, at her sister's anxious appeal, tore the paper away, the thirteenth page lay open before her, and the first words that met her eye were, "Listen to His own words, 'My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any (man or devil) pluck them out of My hand. My Father which gave them Me, is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father's hand' (John 10. 27-29). There, will that do?" In loving wonder and praise, she read the paragraph through, with its question at the end, which was just her own heart's question to her sister.
"There, Nellie!" she said, "there are the very verses I was trying to find; God has sent them to you Himself straight. Now, you will believe them."
Awe, and wonder, and hope, and a dawning sense of relief struggled together on that dying face. "Give me the book, Annie," she whispered softly, "and my Testament, and put the lamp by me, and leave me a little while. You need not fear, dear one; I promise you to ring, if I feel worse, or when I am ready for you.'' Annie rose and obeyed her directions, only waiting to coax her sister to take part of a glass of fresh milk, that had just been brought up.
An hour passed, and Nellie's bell did not ring, and Annie scarcely dared to intrude; but when another hour had nearly gone by, she crept anxiously to the door, and opened it softly. There was no sound. She moved noiselessly into the room, almost dreading to look towards the bed. But her fears were groundless; the sight that met her eye filled her heart with gladness. Nellie was sleeping sweetly, a half-smile on her slightly parted lips, and a look of untroubled peace on her fair young face, such as Annie had never seen there before. The little pamphlet, with its precious verses from God's own Word, was lying open, just where the full light from the lamp shone upon it, close by her side, while one hand still clasped the New Testament, opened at the tenth chapter of John's Gospel, as though she had searched for herself and found the words in her own Bible; and in the rest of soul they had given, the body had found rest also. Quietly, Annie sat down and watched her, till at last she began to fear lest her beloved sister would never again awaken, and rose anxiously to call their mother and others of the family, praying all the time— oh, so earnestly—for just one word, one assuring word from her own lips, to tell her, for certain, that the look of rest on her face was the rest that Jesus gives to every weary one who comes to Him.
The Lord gave her, as He delights to do, far more than she asked Him for.
The movement, slight though it was, had awakened Nellie. She opened her eyes and seeing her sister, said, with a bright, beaming smile, "Oh, Annie, I seem almost to have been in Heaven. 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.' So, He came to save me, for that means every sinner, and it is nothing at all to do with my holding on to Him, or serving Him well, or even knowing Him well, though I would like to, for He says, 'I know them,' so He knows me well, all my badness too, and yet He says, 'Neither shall any pluck them out of My hand.' That must mean that I cannot even take myself out of His hand. How good He is! Yes, that will do, even to die with.''
Tears of deep, holy joy filled the eyes of both, and songs of thanksgiving arose from their hearts. Presently Annie asked, "Did you see it at once, dear?"
"No, not at once. When you read those verses, I felt there might be something for me; I was sure it was the Lord who had sent that message just then, and I wanted to be alone with Him to have it settled. Then something, I suppose it was Satan, whispered, 'Yes, He holds His own sheep, of course; but suppose you are not one of His sheep at all?' Then I was as badly off as ever, and even worse, for my hopes had been raised. Then, in my agony, I turned over the pages to see who it was had had this same fear in dying as I, and my eye caught these words, a page or two farther back. 'This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.' Oh, how sweet that word sinners was! 'If I am not one of His sheep, I am a sinner,' I said aloud, 'and Jesus came to save sinners. Even Satan cannot cheat me of that name, a sinner, nor deny His right to save me; and those He saves, He holds fast.' I wonder I did not see it before; but, oh Annie, what relief it is for peace to come after such agony!"
A smile of almost more than earthly beauty lit up her face, and again her eyes closed, and, though not sleeping, she lay quite still, as though absorbed in her new-found joy.
For some weeks after this, Nellie lingered. It seemed as though the entering in of God's Word had given not only light to her soul at evening time, but even strength to her body, as though, for a time, the very joy of her heart kept her above pain and weakness.
One day, when she had been speaking of Jesus very earnestly to a young friend, her mother entered, and seeing her look so bright and animated, said, "Why, Nellie, I believe we shall have you well again, after all, my child."
"Yes, mother, dear, Jesus has made me whole," she answered, "not as you mean, though," she added. "I am going to the land where the inhabitants shall no more say, 'I am sick,' but better still, I ·am going to Jesus."
Nellie could not keep the treasure she had found to herself; her heart was filled with the burning desire to be the means of imparting it to others.
Life was a reality to her, death was a reality, eternity and, above all, Christ were realities now, and she longed that others whom she knew and loved might not wait till a death-bed, to have everything thus made real.
"My one regret now in dying," she said one day to her younger sister, "Is that even eternity cannot give us the honour of being on Jesus' side, when all the world is against Him, of pleasing Him by being loyal and true; but you still have time, Annie, dear, to be true to, and to be out and out for Jesus, and to win His 'She hath done what she could.' I shall rejoice to hear Him say this of you, in that day."
Taught by the Holy Spirit, whose delight is to take of the things of Jesus and to show them to us, she learnt much in those few short weeks. Whenever it was possible, she craved to have the Word of God read to her, or to read it for herself.
"I want to know as much as I can of Jesus, before I go to Him," she would say to her sister, who was the sharer of all her thoughts, and to whom this was a time of real profit; for Nellie was the teacher now, instead of the learner; not that she took that place, only there was a constant bubbling up of the living waters, wherewith Jesus had filled her soul, which refreshed and strengthened all who came near her. When the last week in January came to a close, and February set in, it was evident, even to those who tried to blind themselves to the fact, that Nellie was sinking fast. Her sufferings were intense—so intense, that even Annie, who clung to her sister with more than ordinary sisterly love, could no longer desire to keep her here. Yet the young sufferer bore all so uncomplainingly, very unlike the lively, high-spirited Nellie of a few months back, who, though an almost universal favourite, and loving and generous even to a fault, could yet brook little patiently, that crossed her thoughts and will. Very unlike, too, the weary, restless, miserable Nellie of a few weeks back. But who can teach like Jesus?
"How can you bear it, my child?" was her mother's almost heart-broken expression one day, when the pain had been even more than usual. "He gave Himself for me," was the soft reply," Himself, Himself!"
Many times during those weeks she asked to hear again the record of that death-bed which bad been the means of bringing peace to her—"God's message to me," as she called it.
It was still early in February, when the end came. Those who loved and watched her, had feared it would be terrible suffering at the last; but gently, peacefully, Jesus Himself put her to sleep.
The sun was setting with almost as brilliant colouring as on that January afternoon, just five weeks since, when, in bitter agony, Nellie had told out to her sister the terror and dismay of her soul. She seemed to remember it, for, turning her eyes towards the glowing west, she murmured softly, "Evening time—and Jesus is—the light. The city—had no need of——" She stopped, a radiant smile of intense satisfaction lit up her face, there was a slight movement, a half-drawn sigh, and Nellie's freed spirit was in the presence of Him who is the light of Heaven, and who had been the light of her young heart in the otherwise dark hours of suffering and death. "Absent from the body, present with the Lord," she was tasting what it is to be with Jesus "in Paradise." X.
“Gospel Messenger” Series # 17 - 24pp.
"Our Own Gazette" 1884. (Mrs. Stephen [Mary Jane] Menzies, Ed.)