The Striking Change
James Smith, 1856
We had a lad in our town who was remarkable for his pride, conceit, and high opinion of himself. His name was John Price. Thinking so much of himself — few people thought much of him. This annoyed him. He became sour and irritable, and no one enjoyed his company. He tried to rise above this, by an effort of his proud spirit. However he could not, and he became morose and gloomy. His company was consequently shunned, and he was left very much to himself.
After a time, a change was witnessed in John Price; he looked cheerful, he spoke as if he was pleased with everyone, and he was ready to do anyone a good turn. The change was evident, and as remarkeable as it was evident. It was generally noticed — but no one seemed to know the cause of it. Some thought a relative had died and left him a large legacy; but then money did not usually make people kind and humble. Some said he was in better health, and that this was the effect of greater strength and more buoyancy of spirits; but this did not seem to be satisfactory.
One day as he was walking to a neighboring town, he was overtaken by Stephen Davis — who was determined if possible to get out of him the reason of the change. "Good morning, John," said he, "didn't I hear you singing?" "Yes," said John, "I was singing, for to tell you the truth my heart is light this morning, and I feel filled with joy." "That's well," replied Stephen, "I have noticed a great change in you lately, and I would like to know how it was brought about." "Well then," said John, "you shall, for I have no wish to keep it a secret. You know very well that I was once very proud and conceited; and as people seemed to look down upon me, I became sour and irritable; then the few companions I had, left me — and I became morose and gloomy. No one wanted my company, and I didn't care much for the company of anyone. Well, I continued in this state for some time, until one day, as I was at work, these words shot into my mind, 'You should love one another' Love, said I, love who? 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love my neighbor, I replied; does my neighbor love me? I looked around me, and I imagined that everyone almost was my enemy. Then, said I, how is it possible to love them? In a moment these words came to my mind, 'Love your enemies.' And they were accompanied with a strange majesty and power, so that I felt them, and they appeared as if they were engraved on my conscience.
I could not get rid of them. I went to the Unicorn Pub, and called for a pint and a pipe, and tried to be cheerful. But somehow it wouldn't do. The words sounded in my ears, 'Love one another. Love your enemies.'
Then it struck me that I had read these words in the Bible, so when I got home, I got it down, and began to look it over, and, sure enough — there I found them. Something within me seemed to say, 'You see they are God's words. It is God who commands you to love, and to love even your enemies. Now you don't. You know you never did. You know you don't even desire to do so.' I could make no reply to this, for I knew it was true.
So my heart sank, and I saw that I was a sinner, and that God was angry with me. The more I thought — the more wretched I was, until I trembled at the thoughts of God's wrath. My mind was filled with thoughts of Hell, and of eternity. I sometimes almost imagined I could see the bottomless pit open, and the blue flames rise up before me. Then something used to whisper, 'That is your doom!' This made me tremble, and I was sometimes afraid to close my eyes in sleep, lest I should awake in Hell.
Now I saw that my sins were not committed against man, so much as against God. I then understood David's words, 'You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance.' I had now no hope. I was afraid to pray, and I thought it was of no use, for it was all over with me. The most horrible temptations were presented to my mind, and the most dreadful thoughts seemed to be whispered in my ears, until at last, in bitter agony of spirit, I cried out, 'What shall I do!' Then these words were suggested to me: Seek the Lord while he may be found, call you upon him while he is near. 'Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.'
The emphasis seemed to be laid on 'He will have mercy,' and these words rung through my soul like the sweetest music. I now felt that I could pray. In prayer I seemed to get near to God, and he appeared to smile on me. All my fears fled. The Lord Jesus was presented to me as dying for my sins, and rising again for my justification. I broke out in praises to God for his great, his wondrous mercy to my soul. And these words were most precious to me, 'He has made peace through the blood of his cross!'
My heart seemed to dance within me for joy. I felt a thorough change. If I looked up to Heaven, it appeared as if God looked down upon me, saying, 'I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn you!' If I looked round upon my neighbors and fellow-townsmen, I felt that I could love them all. Love seemed to be the ruling passion in my soul. I loved God, because he had first loved me, and I loved all his creatures, for his sake.
This, Stephen, this is what renders me so cheerful. I have Christ formed in my heart, the hope of glory. I am reconciled to God by the death of his Son. I possess a good hope through grace, and have the sweet persuasion in my heart, that my sins are all forgiven. God seems to say to me, 'I have blotted out your sins as a cloud, and your iniquities as a thick cloud.' And I feel like the happy Eunuch we read of in the book of Acts, and I go on my way reioicing. Doubts sometimes arise; but I quell them with, 'He will have mercy.' Fears occasionally spring up; but then I endeavor to fix my thoughts on, 'Peace by the blood of his cross.' Not peace by my works — but peace by the blood of Jesus. This is how the change you have witnessed in me was brought about.
And now, Stephen, do you know what joy and peace in believing means? Do you enjoy peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ?"
"Well, John, I cannot say that I do; indeed, nearly all you have said is new to me. I didn't know that a man might be sure that his sins were pardoned. I have never heard anyone talk exactly as you do. I thought if a man went to church or chapel, paid every one their due, and said his prayers now and then — then it would be all right at last. But from what I have seen in you, and what you now tell me, I begin to think there is more in religion than I thought!"
"More, Stephen, yes, there is very much more, and the best of it is, you may know and enjoy it for yourself. God is as willing to pardon you, and bless you, and make you happy, as he was me. There was nothing in me to cause him to do so, any more than there is in you. Let me beseech you, therefore, to seek the Lord for yourself, seek him at once, seek him with all your heart. Do not doubt, for he will have mercy; do not fear, for Jesus has made peace by the blood of his cross. God's mercy is for sinners. Jesus made peace for sinners, and for you, Stephen — if you are willing to receive it, and will heartily seek it."
The tears stood in Stephen Davis's eye, when his friend took him by the hand to say good bye, and once more repeated the words, "He will have mercy." Jesus has "made peace by the blood of his cross." They parted, and John Price went down the lane, singing —
The men of grace have found
Glory begun below;
Celestial fruits on earthly ground
From faith and hope may grow.
The hill of Calvary yields
A thousand sacred sweets,
Before we reach the Heavenly fields,
Or walk the golden streets!