Page images

Yet, Lord, I thee desire

For that they do to me,
Let them not taste the hire

Of their iniquity. Unable to walk or stand, from the tortures she had suffered, poor Anne Askew was carried in a chair to Smithfield, and when brought to the stake, was fastened to it by a chain which held up her body; and one who beheld her there describes her as having " an angel's countenance, and a smiling face.” She had three companions in her last agonies, fellow martyrs with herself-John Lacels, a gentleman of the court and household of King Henry, John Adams, a tailor, and Nicholas Belenian, a priest of Shropshire. The apostate Shaxton preached the sermon. The three Throckmortons, near kinsmen of the queen, and members of her household, had drawn near to comfort Anne Askew and her companions, but were warned that they were marked men, and entreated to withdraw.

At the very last, a written pardon from the king was offered to Anne Askew, upon condition that she would recant. The fearless lady turned away her eyes, and would not look upon it. She told them that she came not thither to deny her Lord and Master. The fire was ordered to be put under her; “ and thus,” to use the words of John Foxe, * the good Anne Askew, with these blessed martyrs, having passed through so many torments, having now ended the long course of her agonies, being compassed in with flames of fire, as a blessed sacrifice unto God, she slept in the Lord, A.D. 1546, leaving behind her a singular example of Christian constancy for all men to follow." Her crime was the denial of the mass. “Lo, this,” she wrote, “is the heresy that I hold, and for it must suffer death.” She kept the faith to her God, she kept the faith to her friends, for she betrayed no one, enduring shame and agony with meek unshaken constancy. “ None but Christ, none but Christ,” was the rallying cry of the martyrs and confessors of that terrible time; and nothing less than this could have made the weakness of a delicate woman so strong, the feebleness of a mortal creature so triumphant.

[ocr errors]


VANITY AND VEXATION. That is a remarkable story which we find in the book of Genesis, of the building of the tower of Babel. The men

who built it were resolved to bid defiance to change and trouble and every enemy, and even to defy the very power of Omnipotence; and so they set about building a tower which should reach even to heaven. From that tower they probably meant to sally forth on expeditions of rapine and conquest, and bear back to it captives and spoil; it should be a scene of wild revelry, and they would exercise from it an irresistible dominion. Its foundations were deeply and firmly laid, bricks were fashioned, bitumen was brought from the slime-pits, and the building began. Tier after tier arose, and ere long they would think the tower would stand out against the sky in all its completeness : but suddenly all their plans were frustrated. God confounded their language : the builders were scattered far and wide, and the unfinished tower remained, a signal proof of the folly of the men who had expected to make it an abiding rest.

There have been a great many Babel builders since, just as foolish as those who began to build that tower; men who were determined to lay up for themselves that which would enable them to do without God. One of the most prominent of these foolish builders was King Solomon. He gathered, with unsparing pains, materials of happiness from every possible source.

He built splendid palaces, surrounded himself with a great retinue, laid out beautiful gardens, filled his palaces with wives and concubines, ate the costliest meats, and drank the rarest wines, - in a word, he “withheld not his soul from any good.” All these, he would think, constituted a tower of strength, in which neither care nor evil fortune would assail him, and in which he would be secure and happy for long years to come. He tried them all tried them as only a king could try them-tried them to the very utmost; and this is the result of his experience : “Behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”

So every man will find it who seeks his happiness only in the world.

The toil and care which so often arise in the prosecution of worldly things are a great source of vexation. What unmistakeable marks of care we see on the countenances of men of every grade! The tradesman, the professional man, the merchant-men who are often spoken of as “in easy circumstances,

,”-have frequently to work far harder, and to bear a far heavier load of care than the poorest artisan.

There is a constant struggle amongst all classes to rise. The tradesman seeks to extend his business ; the speculator seeks by some new speculation to increase his wealth; and the man who has risen to some post of honour seeks to make it a stepping-stone to something higher. All this involves care, which too often frets and worries the spirit, and which greatly embitters life.

There is the vexation of failure. Sometimes a man attains everything on which he had set his heart, and his proudest dreams are more than realized; but how very seldom this happens ! and instead there is grievous disappointment. Nor does this happen only where the expectations which have been cherished were altogether unwarranted. There are cases in which men who had the best possible reasons to expect success are involved in failure. It is a truth of which illustrations present themselves to us every day, that “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all." Do what some people will, everything seems to come to nought. Men fail who owe them money; times change, and become unpropitious; and when the period arrives when they thought their struggles would be all over, they find they have to toil even more hardly than ever. We often see numbers contending for some post of advantage or honour; and whilst one bears off the prize, how keenly the defeated competitors feel their disappointment!

There is the vexation of loss. Many a one has thought that his mountain stood so strong that nothing could move it; and as others have looked at it with its roots in the depths of the earth and its summit in the clouds, they too could scarcely think it possible that it would be moved.

Yet how many mountains, which seemed firm as the everlasting hills, have we seen melt away as in a moment! We have seen kings hurled from their thrones; and we have seen fortunes of almöst every amount wrecked hopelessly and for ever. And where the loss is only partial, and the man has still left more than enough to keep him from want, what vexation and annoyance are occasioned by the partial loss !

But perhaps the greatest vexation of all is that of finding that, when actually attained, worldly things are“ vanity, and that they altogether fail to minister to the soul the


happiness they promised. Many a rich man, surrounded by all that wealth could purchase, has sighed for the comparative peace which he enjoyed in the little cottage he occupied when he began life; and how plainly we see graven on the countenances of those who addict themselves entirely to the pursuit of pleasure the marks of utter dissatisfaction and weariness. “ The joy of the world,” says an old writer, “resembles a torrent. As upon a glut of rain

you shall have a torrent come rolling along with noise and violence, overflowing its banks and bearing all before it, yet it is but muddy and impure water, and it is soon gone and dried up. Such is all the joy this world can give. It makes a great noise ; it is commonly immoderate

. and swells beyond its due bounds, yet it is but a muddy and impure joy. It soon rolls away, and leaves but a drought in the soul.”

May we not see in all this the love of God? “ The love of God!” perhaps some one says;

“ how can that be ? Would it not have been far greater love if he had made everything smooth and pleasant; if he had freed us from care, and given us to rejoice in the attainment of every hope, and made us feel that all was so satisfying that we should never have had to cry, 'All is vanity!" No, we reply. With hearts so prone to forget him, and surrounded by such a world, it would not. If the children of Israel could have eaten their fill of the flesh-pots of Egypt, no cruel taskmasters grinding them down with heavy bondage, no ruthless destroyer slaying their little ones, they would never have cared to encounter the perils of the wilderness, and never have sighed for the promised land: but love stirred their nest, and made them sigh for deliverance. The prodigal would never have said, " I will arise and go to my father,” if, in the “far country” to which he bad gone, he had not been in sore want and misery. So if men did not feel the world to be vanity, they would never seek the pure and lasting joys which come to them from the right hand of God. Is there not love, then, in the way God makes us feel that this is not our rest ? St. Augustine says, “ The world troubles and molests me, and yet I love it: what if it did not trcuble me?" So Bishop Hopkins has well said, “We should never think of returning to the fountain of living waters, if we could find in earthly cisterns enough to quench the thirst of our souls. And therefore God deals with us as some great person would do

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


with a disobedient son that forsakes his house and riots amougst his tenants. His father gives orders that they should treat him ill, affront, and chase him from them, and all that he might reduce him. The same doth God. Man is his wild and debauched son : he flies from the commands of his father, and cannot endure to live under his holy and just government. Whither goes he but to the pleasures of the world, and revels and riots among the creatures ? But God resolves to recover him, and therefore commands every creature to handle him roughly. Burn him, fire; toss him, tempests, and shipwreck bis estate; forsake him, friends; designs, fail him; children, be rebellious to him, as he is to me; let his support and dependence sink under him, his riches melt away, -leave him poor, and despised, and destitute. These are all God's servants, and must obey his will.

And to what end is all this, but that, seeing himself forsaken of all, he may at length, like the beggared Prodigal, come again to his father?"

God would have us seek our peace and rest in Jesus. Our Lord saw not only the men of his own time, but the men of all ages, restless and weary; some burdened with care, some disappointed with the vanity of the world, some in great trouble, and he cried, " If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink ;" “ Come unto me, all yo that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Very tenderly, too, he said to his disciples, in his last discourse, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth give I unto you." Let a man believe in Christ, repenting heartily of all his sins, and trusting entirely in the great Redeemer; let him seek from Jesus a new heart and a right spirit; and then let him devote his life to the Lord's service, resolving that all he does shall be done in obedience to his law, and in order that he may be glorified ; and we answer for it that he will never have to cry, “ All is vanity.” There will reign in his heart, instead, a "peace which passeth all understanding," and he will be filled with a joy that is

unspeakable and full of glory." We do not say that he will meet with no sorrows and no disappointments, but he will meet with none that can take from him his joy; there will abound to him consolations which will chase

the gloom of even the darkest night; and he will know, as no one can know besides, the truth of that seeming paradox, “ As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing."





« PreviousContinue »