By Louisa Lane Clarke
Is it not enough to have followed the parson's wife through duties, trials, and difficulties, at home, abroad, in the cottage, and in the hail? enough to have marked her footsteps as she warily trod the narrow way; and enough to have seen how zealously she labours in her appointed work, so that we, whose course may be parallel, whose duties are the same, whose difficulties often, like hers, may find at once an example, a guide, and a comfort in this sketch of her life. No not yet enough; we must follow her to one place more. This outward walk of the country parson's wife, true and possible as it may be, would seem, must seem to many but as a beautiful unattainable model of christian perfection, unless we find the key to this mystery of godliness, and search out the secret spring which sets this machinery in motion. We must follow the parson's wife to her closet, and notice more particularly her spiritual life.
It is not an ideal or exaggerated picture which is drawn of this holy character. She is not a being of any superior order or intelligence, but a woman of "like passions with ourselves;" with a "heart deceitful above all things arid desperately wicked;" "sore let and hindered in running the race set before her," by the "sin which so easily besets her." She is one who from being "dead in trespasses and sins," "an alien from the commonwealth of Israel," and "in her carnal heart at enmity with God," has been awakened to a new life with a renewed mind, and "being justified by faith, is not only at peace with God," but "constrained by the love of Christ" to every good word and work. She lives not in herself, as the apostle says, "I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me." And herein is the secret of her strength, for in him all fulness dwells, and her "wisdom, her righteousness, her sanctification, and her redemption," are all drawn from a fount which never faileth. And these are freely given unto her according to the measure of her faith.
Yet whilst her outward holiness and her spiritual life are thus considered in some measure apart, let not the connecting link between them be forgotten, nor the means lost sight of by which the one is preserved and the other attained. Rich fruit and free to us may hang upon the tree of life, but unless the hand go forth to pluck it, what would it avail? Treasures untold may be offered to our poverty, but if we seek not their possession, what will they profit us? So we must follow the parson's wife to her closet, which is to her as the gate of heaven, at which she early and late knocks loudly by fervent prayer. This is a great secret in her life. Prayer is to her as the lifeblood of her heart, and flows freely, for ever gushing forth unbidden, and circulating through every affection, every power of her mind, and every action of her soul. It is as the voice of a child in the simple earnestness of want; it is as the cry of a child in the helpless wail of sorrow. And her praise also rises as the song of a child in the grateful gladness of an humble spirit. She has inward conflicts, many of them; and spiritual difficulties far more in number and in importance than any earthly hindrance. She has spiritual desertions, and these are very grievous. But her closet is a place of fervent and prevailing prayer, and many a ray of purest light is first discerned in the hour of darkness. Sometimes she is laid low in the valley of humiliation, but the atmosphere is healthful and clear; she has deeper views of the "chambers of imagery" within, and sees farther and higher into the heaven of holiness; she feels more of her own weakness, and rises from the place of prayer with renewed strength, she sinks for a moment under the burden and heat of the day, and goes forth from her closet more firmly propped by the staff of sustaining grace.
In the same spot she learns her heavenly Father's will, the secret of her steady principles in the world, and her quiet decision between right and wrong.
In the study of the Scriptures she is regular, serious, and single-minded. Whatever be the plan or form of her reading, she goes not to it as a duty to be fulfilled in the letter only, as a task to be learned by rote, as a mere matter of obedience to her Lord's commandment, (John v. 39,) but she enters upon the occupation as one who enjoys, as the greatest earthly privilege, thus to know God's holy will. She has her wants, and they must be satisfied. She is earnest when she seeks for her needful blessing. If she wants knowledge it lies unfolded before her, and that mystic page whose characters are but dim and con fused to the eye of the natural heart, when read in the spirit of humble prayer, and with the promised assistance of God's enlightening Spirit, shines forth so clearly that "he may run who readeth," and so brightly that her heart is cheered whilst her steps are guided in the narrow track which leadeth unto life.
If she wants happiness, she is in earnest when she seeks the promises of God's word, and pleads them at the throne of mercy. "All things are yours--" such is the unlimited gift of God. And the key of that treasury which contains all peace, all joy, all comfort and grace, for every time of need, is--simple, fervent, persevering prayer.
The secret of the Christian's spiritual life and holy conversation is prayer. The strong hold of the country parson's wife is her closet.