The Story of a Winter Day's Drive

 •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 17
IT was often my privilege to drive about the country, and through this I was frequently brought into association with different classes of men. Perhaps one of the most remarkable of these was an earnest, estimable clergyman who, at times, came to stay at the great house near my own abode. He constantly talked with me of many things. Gifted as he was himself with great knowledge of good books, and, as a traveler in many lands, it seemed an uncommon delight to him to find any one desirous of acquiring useful information, which, he encouragingly used to say, might stand him in good stead in years to come.
I remember those days with infinite pleasure, and the influence exercised by this good man can never be forgotten. He was very humble and simple in his ways, so much so, that wherever he went amongst the cottagers in the country, he was always welcomed, and regarded as a real friend; for he carried with him everywhere a kindly smile, and ever the common wayside stonebreaker would be cheered by his hearty salutation as he passed along the road
Personally, he was a splendid specimen of a man. His broad, open, generous face was an indication of the kindliness of his heart. His finely developed forehead told of the strength and power of his mind, and his cultured, affable words were at all times full of tenderness and sympathy for the tried and troubled souls with whom he came in contact.
Such were a few of the personal characteristics of this dear friend (as I may call him), as they rise up into my remembrance, and I regard it as most fortunate that in my early days I should have been brought into touch with such a gentleman, who having obtained himself a high position in his University days, was enabled to impart to others in a simple way some of the knowledge which, by patient study and reading, he had been able to acquire himself.
We very often talked together of the writings of the greatest men who had lived ages ago: of Homer, of Virgil, of Julius Caesar, of Pliny and Plutarch: of Wycliffe, Luther, Gibbon, Rollin, Grote, and of countless other writers and great poets of more recent times: and moreover generally of the literature and art and science of our own country: and of principles of law and equity which have exercised such a beneficent influence upon the civilization and material progress of the world.
Now although this gentleman had so often spoken about all these interesting matters, we had never really exchanged any thoughts about that which is, after all, by far the most important topic, and that is the question of the soul’s eternal welfare: but God had purposed that this should be brought about too, and I want in this incident to show how surely the Lord works in the hearts of His people to bring about His own purposes of blessing for those who love Him.
I have said that this gentleman frequently came to stay at the mansion near my own home: this was nearly twenty miles from the parish in which my friend usually lived and labored. He devoted his whole energies and personal means to the benefit of the considerable population of that agricultural countryside, and it may be mentioned to the honor of his memory, that he not only spent his own energies, purely for the love of the work, and for the good of the people, but he also gave most liberally of his own means to help on the Lord’s work in his own and other localities.
It happened on a certain occasion that he called, as was his custom, at our farm, and mentioned with some perplexity that he had to take a service in his church on the following day, and was in a difficulty how to reach it, as there was no railway and the carriages of his host were all engaged. I told him it would give me exceeding pleasure to be permitted to drive him thither and to bring him back again to the Hall. With simple thanks he accepted the offer, and it was arranged that early on the following morning we should start on the journey.
It was a lovely day, quite early in the year; the air was keen and fresh but the sun bright and beautiful. The snow had disappeared, and the trees, tall, bare, and leaden though they looked, stood out sharply all silhouetted against the clear sky as if they were only waiting for the word when they might be bidden to put on their beautiful apparel and break forth once more into new life and beauty.
The road at first led us along a quiet valley. It abounded with natural beauties, and God’s bounty and goodness seemed to be appreciated by the thousands of twittering birds and by the innumerable rabbits, squirrels and other creatures, that seemed astonished at our intrusion into their own usually silent and secluded domain. A little brooklet hurried along to the sea—we could now and then just get a glimpse of its silver strand in the distance far away down the valley.
Our conversation began about all these things, for the tiniest flower or bird or insect seemed to be a matter of interest to my companion, who never tired of talking of the wonderful evidences of God’s skill and handiwork, which are visible to anyone who has eyes to see, or a mind to observe and to appreciate them. Indeed, on that memorable journey, although we were surrounded by the grey, cold characteristics of a winter’s day, yet I am sure in our hearts there was the glowing sense of God’s kindness and mercy which filled them with gratitude and made us very sensible of His abounding love.
We had passed on through these varying scenes for perhaps about an hour, when our route caused us to leave the valley and begin to ascend the hills that intervened between us and our destination. As soon as we did so, my companion took from his pocket a little black satchel, and opening it said, “This is the sermon I hope to preach to my people this afternoon. You know,” he added, “this is a special service when the members of the clubs, with their wives and children, all march in procession to church, and I thought I should like to speak to them about the love of God,” and with sympathetic tenderness of heart he continued, “Many of them have a very hard lot here, and they do not meet with much love or care, and so I thought I would preach about the great love of God.”
He then asked me if I knew his text and whether I would like to hear a little bit of his sermon. We very slowly and gradually ascended the hill, and as we did so my friend read out his text, which to my surprise and pleasure was John 3:1616For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) and 17: “FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, THAT WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH IN HIM SHOULD NOT PERISH, BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE: FOR GOD SENT NOT HIS SON INTO THE WORLD TO CONDEMN THE WORLD, BUT THAT THE WORLD THROUGH HIM MIGHT BE SAVED.” As soon as he had finished the text, he began to read the address. It was couched in simple, telling, affectionate terms: it spoke of the hardships that many of his hearers had to endure in their toilsome lives from day to day, but showed them how God had loved them, sinners though they were, and had given His only begotten Son to die for them. He dwelt upon the love of God, and used the Old Testament illustration of Abraham offering up Isaac as a shadow and picture of the greater love of God in yielding up His Son absolutely, to die upon the cross, so that sinners might be saved. Over and over again the burden of the sermon rang out clearly and distinctly, “For God so loved the world,” etc., “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world,” etc., and other similar beautiful declarations concerning the love of God, until my heart was gladdened, and I thanked God that His servant was able to carry to his people such a magnificent unfolding of the boundless grace and tender love of God.
I had, neither the ability nor the disposition to criticize the address, because I had not long been a Christian myself, and it was very little I knew at all of God’s ways or of His Word, but the sense of His great love had been glowing in my soul ever since I knew the Saviour’s name, and any mention of it, whether from this clergyman or from other friends, brought back to mind the scalding tears of repentance that had flowed when I first knew my Lord, and so these words of the minister fell upon soil ready to receive them, and produced expressions of gratitude from my lips as I declared how glad I was that I knew a little of the love of God and could thank Him that He had not only caused me to know that, and had saved my soul, but He had given me now everlasting life, and I knew it and thanked God for it.
To my exceeding surprise, my friend seemed astonished that I spoke with such assurance about having NOW everlasting life, and said that he should be afraid himself to say so much as that, and thought it was more humble and becoming of a young Christian “to hope that he might have everlasting life someday, or by-and-by, in heaven.” For an instant I was almost staggered at this gently expressed rebuke: but the words of my Lord came as distinctly into my mind as possible, and I could not help saying, “Why, sir, my Saviour said that those who believe in Him HAVE everlasting life. I truly believe in Him, and therefore I HAVE everlasting life Now.”
“Oh, my young friend,” said my companion, “who taught you that? Why, here have I professed to be a Christian for many, many years: although I love God and try to serve Him, yet I could not be so presumptuous as to say so confidently that ‘I know I am saved.’ If I could, I should be at perfect peace: but as it is I am very often troubled in my soul and wonder if after all I am indeed really a Christian. But where,” he asked, “do you get any authority from the Bible to say so certainly you are saved?” For an instant again I hesitated in my response: but once more, as always occurs when God’s children rely upon His Blessed Spirit, text after text came rolling into my young soul, which told in plain and unequivocal language not only that God’s people ought to have peace with God and to have the love of God shed abroad in the heart, and to be able to joy in God, but ought also to be assured of a perfect salvation, and to know with absolute certainty that they have “passed from death unto life,” and know it simply because God says, “He that believeth on the Son HATE everlasting life.”
Just at this moment it came into my mind that I had a Bible in the box seat under me, and I stopped the horse and asked permission of my friend to read certain passages in response to his inquiry. The first I read was John 3:3636He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. (John 3:36), already quoted, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” The next was John 5:2424Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:24), “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My Word, and believeth on Him that sent me, HATH EVERLASTING LIFE, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.” And then, although I had never read them but once or twice in my life, other portions of the precious Word of God came almost unconsciously to my memory, so that I could turn to the chapter and verse, and amongst them were those in 1 John 5:10, 11, 12, 1310He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. 11And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. 13These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:10‑13), “HE THAT BELIEVETH ON THE SON OF GOD HATH THE WITNESS IN HIMSELF: HE THAT BELIEVETH NOT GOD HATH MADE HIM A LIAR, BECAUSE HE BELIEVETH NOT THE RECORD THAT GOD GAVE OF HIS SON; AND THIS IS THE RECORD, THAT GOD HATH GIVEN TO US ETERNAL LIFE, AND THIS LIFE IS IN HIS SON; HE THAT HATH THE SON HATH LIFE, AND HE THAT HATH NOT THE SON HATH NOT LIFE. THESE THINGS HAVE WRITTEN UNTO YOU THAT BELIEVE IN THE NAME OF THE SON OF GOD, THAT YE MAY KNOW THAT YE HAVE ETERNAL LIFE.”
When I had finished reading these words I seemed unable to add a syllable: indeed, to speak the truth, I felt a little ashamed at my own temerity in thus trying to teach the clergyman, but the sequel showed that God’s hand was there. I noticed as soon as we started again on our journey my friend was exceedingly quiet and apparently prayerful and thoughtful, until presently he broke the almost painful silence by saying, “Why—” (mentioning my Christian name) “why, I have read that Scripture in John’s Epistle thousands of times, and yet I never felt the full power of it as I do now. Tell me now,” he said, “do you mean to say you accept those words literally and exactly in all their full force and power, precisely as they are written?” I recall how I trembled when I turned to answer that clergyman’s earnest question. I felt it might be fraught with exceeding blessing, or be a hindrance, and so I prayed to my Lord in heaven to give me the right answer, and thank God that in those early days, as a Christian lad, I was able to reply (remembering the cultured, kindly, Christian gentleman whom I was addressing) and to say, “Sir, I truly believe these things from my heart. ‘These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that YE MAY KNOW that ye have eternal life.’ I believe that God has given these words, that they are God’s words, and that we should accept the truth of them for the simple reason that God says it, and that therefore it MUST be true that those who believe may know that they have eternal life here upon earth:” and moreover, I ventured to add that I thought the very opposite of that which he had advanced was really true, as it is written, “He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of His Son; and this is the record, that God HATH given to us eternal life” (1 John 5:10, 1110He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. 11And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (1 John 5:10‑11)).
My reader, believe me, that although on the one hand here was a learned, intellectual, refined scholar and on the other only a partially instructed believing country lad, yet God was pleased to use the reading of these emphatic Scriptures to the liberation of this minister’s soul from the thralldom of doubt and occasional uncertainty; and just the same blessing is in store for you, my friend, if you will bow to the authority of God’s unfailing word, as, thank God, did our friend the clergyman on that day.
Our outward journey was nearly at an end. We had reached the highest ridge of the hills, and there, in the valley at the base of the hill below, was the, scattered village, over the religious welfare of which my companion presided. He had only been absent for a few days, and yet his voice seemed to quiver with affection and interest as he spoke of some of the aged cottagers whom he hoped to see that day. We passed through the straggling place amidst the happy greetings and glad welcome of very many people who had assembled preparatory to the afternoon service. It was a pleasure to note the cordial feeling manifestly existing between the clergyman and his people. The children all gathered close to his home and sang some sweet hymn-melody as we drove through the old-fashioned gateway entrance to the quaint moated vicarage.
There was no time for further talk upon the subject that had occupied us for the greater part of our drive thither: but the grateful grasp of his loving hand spoke more than words can tell, and made me convinced that his mind had undergone a considerable change, and that the glad joy of the conscious possession of eternal life had now filled his heart with thankfulness and joy unspeakable. That such was really the result of this interesting country drive we shall be able to make clear at another time, please God, in the pages of our Magazine.
G. A.