When Zeph turned from the little red school-house to go home, after the prayer-meeting, he felt that peace which comes after a great interior crisis has passed. He had, for the first time in his life, yielded his will, absolutely and thoroughly. He had humbled himself, in a public confession of wrong-doing, before all his neighbors, before those whom he had felt to be enemies. He had taken the step convulsively, unwillingly, constrained thereto by a mighty overmastering power which wrought within him. He had submitted, without love, to the simple, stern voice of conscience and authority—the submission of a subject to a monarch, not that of a child to a father. Just then and there, when he felt himself crushed, lonely, humbled and despairing, the touch of that child's hand on his, the pleading childish face, the gentle childish voice, had spoken to him of the love of Christ.

There are hard, sinful, unlovely souls, who yet long to be loved, who sigh in their dark prison for that tenderness, that devotion, of which they are consciously unworthy. Love might redeem them; but who can love them? There is a fable of a prince doomed by a cruel enchanter to wear a loathsome, bestial form till some fair woman should redeem him by the transforming kiss of love. The fable is a parable of the experience of many a lost human soul.

The religion of Christ owes its peculiar power to its revealing a Divine Lover, the one Only Fair, the altogether Beautiful, who can love the unlovely back into perfectness. The love of Christ has been the dissolving power that has broken the spells and enchantments which held human souls in bondage and has given them power to rise to the beauty and freedom of the sons of God.

As Zeph walked homeward through the lonely stillness of the night, again and again the words thrilled through his soul, "Christ loves you"—and such tears as he had never wept before stood in his eyes, as he said wonderingly, "Me—me? Oh, is it possible? Can it be?" And Christ died for him! He had known it all these years, and never thanked him, never loved him. The rush of new emotion overpowered him; he entered his house, walked straight to the great family Bible that lay on a stand in the best room of the house; it was the very room where the coffin of his wife had stood, where he had sat, stony and despairing, during the funeral exercises. Zeph opened the Bible at random and began turning the leaves, and his eye fell on the words, "Unto Him that LOVED US and washed us from our sins in his own blood and hath made us to our God kings and priests, to him be glory!" His heart responded with a strange new joy—a thrill of hope that he, too, might be washed from his sins.

Who can read the awful mysteries of a single soul? We see human beings, hard, harsh, earthly, and apparently without an aspiration for any thing high and holy; but let us never say that there is not far down in the depths of any soul a smothered aspiration, a dumb repressed desire to be something higher and purer, to attain the perfectness to which God calls it.

Zeph felt at this moment that Christ who so loved him could purify him, could take away his pride and willfulness; and he fell on his knees, praying without words, but in the spirit of him of old who cried, "If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." As he prayed a great peace fell upon him, a rest and stillness of soul such as he had never felt before; he lay down that night and slept the sleep of a little child.

But when next day Zeph Higgins walked into Deacon Dickenson's store and of his own accord offered to put back the water-pipes that led to his spring, and to pay whatever cost and damage the Deacon might have incurred in throwing them out, there was then no manner of doubt that some higher power than that of man had been at work in his soul.

The Deacon himself was confounded, almost appalled, by the change that had come over his neighbor. He had been saying all his life that the grace of God could do anything and convert anybody, but he never expected to see a conversion like that. Instead of grasping eagerly at the offered reparation he felt a strange emotion within himself, a sort of choking in his throat; and now that he saw the brother with whom he had contended yielding so unconditionally, he began to question himself whether he had no wrong to confess on his side.

"Wal now, I expect I've ben wrong too," he said. "We ain't perfectly sanctified, none on us, and I know I hain't done quite right, and I hain't felt right. I got my back up, and I've said things I hadn't orter. Wal, we'll shake hands on't. I ain't perticklar 'bout them water-pipes now; we'll let bygones be bygones."

But Zeph had set his heart on reparation, and here was a place where the pertinacity of his nature had an honest mission; so by help of reference to one or two neighbors as umpires the whole loss was finally made good and the long-standing controversy with all its ill-feeling settled and buried forever out of sight.

The news of this wonderful change spread through all the town.

"I declar' for't," said Liph Kingsley to Bill Larkins, "this ere's a reel thing, and it's time for me to be a-thinkin'. I've got a soul to be saved too, and I mean to quit drinkin' and seek the Lord."

"Poh!" said Bill, "you may say so and think so; but you won't do it. You'll never hold out."

"Don't you believe that; Christ will help you," said Zeph Higgins, who had overheard the conversation. "He has helped me; he can help you. He can save to the uttermost. There 'tis in the Bible—try it. We'll all stand by ye."

A voice like this from old Zeph Higgins impressed the neighbors as being almost as much of a miracle as if one of the gray cliffs of old Bluff Head had spoken; but his heart was full, and he was ready everywhere to testify to the love that had redeemed him. No exhorter in the weekly prayer-meeting spoke words of such power as he.

The few weeks that followed were marked in the history of the town. Everywhere the meetings for preaching and prayer were crowded. Glazier's bar-room was shut up for want of custom, and Glazier himself renounced the selling of liquor and became one of the converts of the revival. For a while every member of the church in the village acted as if the wonderful things which they all professed to believe were really true—as if there were an immortality of glory to be gained or lost by our life here.

The distinction between the aristocracy of Town Hill and the outlying democracy of the farming people was merged for the time in a sense of a higher and holier union. Colonel Davenport and Judge Gridley were seen with Doctor Cushing in the school-houses of the outlying districts, exhorting and praying, and the farmers from the distant hills crowded in to the Town Hill meetings. For some weeks the multitude was of one heart and one soul. A loftier and mightier influence overshadowed them, under whose power all meaner differences sunk out of sight. Such seasons as these are like warm showers that open leaf and flower, buds that have been long forming. Everybody in those days that attended Christian services had more or less of good purposes, of indefinite aspiration to be better, of intentions that related to some future. The revival brought these out in the form of an immediate practical purpose, a definite, actual beginning in a new life.

"Well, Mother," said Hiel Jones, "I've made up my mind to be a Christian. I've counted the cost, and it will cost something, too. I was a-goin' up to Vermont to trade for a team o' hosses, and I can't make the trade I should 'a' made. If I jine the church I mean to live up to 't, and I can't make them sharp trades fellers do. I could beat 'em all out o' their boots," said Hiel, with rather a regretful twinkle in his eye, "but I won't; I'll do the right thing, ef I don't make so much by 't. Nabby and me's both agreed 'bout that. We shall jine the church together, and be married as soon as I get back from Vermont. I allers meant to git religion sometime—but somehow, lately, I've felt that now is the time."

On one bright autumnal Sabbath of that season the broad aisle of the old meeting-house was filled with candidates solemnly confessing their faith and purpose to lead the Christian life. There, standing side by side, were all ages, from the child to the gray-haired man. There stood Dolly with her two brothers, her heart thrilling with the sense of the holy rite in which she was joining; there Nabby and Hiel side by side; there all the sons of Zeph Higgins; and there, lastly, the gray, worn form of old Zeph himself. Although enrolled as a church member he had asked to stand up and take anew those vows of which he had never before understood the meaning or felt the spirit, and thus reunite himself with the church from which he had separated.

That day was a recompense to Dr. Cushing for many anxieties and sorrows. He now saw fully that though the old régime of New England had forever passed, yet there was still in the hands of her ministry that mighty power which Paul was not ashamed to carry to Rome as adequate to regenerate a world. He saw that intemperance and profanity and immorality could be subdued by the power of religious motive working in the hearts of individual men, taking away the desire to do evil, and that the Gospel of Christ is to-day, as it was of old and ever will be, the power of God and the wisdom of God to the salvation of every one that believeth.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook