REV. B. MANLY, JR., D. D., GREENVILLE, S. C.
In the beginning of the war, a youth (whom we will call Charles R—) joined the
Confederate army. He seemed fired with hearty zeal for the defence of our
assailed rights. His parents were of Northern birth, but of Southern residence,
and professed decided adhesion to Southern views. The first few movements of
the war, however, brought their place of abode within the enemy's lines. Their
son's company was stationed to guard an important point, where, across the
waters of Hampton Roads, the United States flag was full in view, beneath which
his father and family had taken refuge. Every day, as he gazed over the wavy
expanse, he could see where they dwelt, now reconciled apparently to the Yankee
yoke, even if they had not become its aiders and abettors. What influences
prevailed over his boyish mind, cannot be certainly known.—But somehow, the
longing to join them, or the dislike of camp restraints, or the fickleness of a
boy, triumphed over his oath of enlistment, his conviction of the righteousness
of our cause, and his dread of the peril of desertion.
The opportunity was not long wanting, which ripened his scarcely formed desire into action.—Numerous light boats were drawn up along the beach, with which the men were accustomed to sport, sometimes fishing, sometimes barely amusing themselves with a brief excursion. One evening as the gold of sunset was mingling with the silver that crested the waves, Charles R—entered a boat and pushed off. He floated about carelessly with the ebb tide, as it seemed for a while, by degrees getting further and further out, till, from the distance and the darkening twilight, he might safely venture more decided movements. Perhaps even then he paused, debating whether to go or return; but the attractions ahead were too strong. Behind him were his sworn comrades in arms. Before him loomed the enemy's castle, with the associates of his early life. To them his heart cleaved. The doubt was over. With all the speed his eager and practiced hand could give, he urged his boat to Fortress Monroe. He was a successful deserter.
I have known some to enlist under the banner of Jesus, who seemed all animated
with noble zeal, whose promptitude and ardor outran the diffidence of slower
minds, and gave promise of abundant and extensive usefulness. They "seemed
to run well," and received a confidence and position in the church, which
gave them power afterwards to bring reproach on the cause. They were not,
perhaps, deceivers at first. They meant well, felt earnest, thought themselves
sincere; but there was no steadfastness, no principle, no actual renewal about
them. Their true attachments were elsewhere. Their chosen associations, their
strongest ties, their deepest feelings bound them to the enemy. And so, after a
struggle with the shame of fickleness, and with the dread of the soul's peril,
and with the obligation of their vows and covenants—they departed. It was not
all at once, perhaps; not by vigorous and determined movements at first.—But
they went. They left the Lord, they left his people, they left his ordinances,
they left his ways, they cast his book aside, they put his laws behind their
back, they cut themselves off from Him and His. In the outset, perhaps, it was
apparently a simple yielding to the stress of an ebbing tide, to the breathing
of an off-shore wind; it was but an imperceptible movement, unsuspected by
others, possibly not fully determined on by themselves; but the tendency was
away from God and goodness, it was prevailingly toward evil. The temptation grew
stronger as the distance and the darkness of the soul increased, and at last
they struck out straight to join the enemy.
Are these any such deserters in this camp? Are there any, who are likely to
become such? Are they any, who are even now conscious of the temptation, which
is seducing them from God? Are there any who have begun that half sportive, half
serious parleying which may soon subject them altogether to its snares? Are
there any, who are even now swaying back and for on the deceitful waves that lie
between the regions of purity and evil, half questioning with themselves whether
to return or stay?
You have not gone far. Therefore it is easy to stop now. You are not yet
determined to yield and go. Therefore determine at once not to go. Your danger
may seem slight. It is for that very reason more likely to delude and to destroy
you. Your error from the path of duty may appear plausible, may almost seem
extenuated, or excused, by the circumstances around you. Therefore take the more
heed lest you fall. Oh stop! Think where you are going? Pray for grace to Him
that is able to keep you from falling.
But perhaps there are some who have passed beyond this doubtful stage of
indecision. You are not resisting temptation, not struggling against
backsliding; you are not merely meditating a desertion, and hesitating before
you begin. You have passed the Rubicon. You have made your choice. You are free
from the restraint of religious profession, and have cast the fear of God behind
you. Well, you are a successful deserter. You have gone forth from God's people,
because you were not of them. And what now? The vows of God are upon you.
You have broken them; but the shattered links still cling around your soul, and
cannot be shaken off. You have renounced his service. But that does not alter
the fact, that you once voluntarily enlisted in it. And so you stand, before God
and angels and men, as a breaker of your promise, as a conscious violater of a
solemn deliberate covenant with your God. Is it not so?
Your influence is most decidedly felt against the cause of Christ, which
once you professed to honor. You are not only ranked with the enemy; but you are
so ranked by your own deliberate preference. And you have power to do more to
religion, than those who never professed to be Christians. Your conduct seems to
say to the world—that you have tried religion, and found it to be a delusion.
You may say, this is not your meaning; but such, alas, is the interpretation,
which those who do not love God will put on your testimony. They will delight to
point to you and say, "There is a man who was 'one of the saints.' but has
grown wiser." They will boast of your impiety, will strengthen themselves
on your weak compliances, will glory in your shame. They will take a fiendish
satisfaction in dragging you with them to deeper and more damning degradation,
because you once tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to
come. Your vices will be the theme of peculiar merriment, because you once sat
at the table of the Lord, because your hands have handled the holy sacrament.
Your blasphemies will be greeted with special glee, because your lips have
joined in the songs of heavenly praise. And your case will be urged as the
convincing argument which should deter the giddy from serious thought, the
thoughtful from conviction, the convinced from faith in Christ, the trembling
believer from public profession—You will be made the stumbling block, for the
blind to stumble over into hell!
Your case is one of fearful danger, as well as of aggravated sin.
"If he that despised Moses' law died without mercy, of how much sorer
punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot
the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was
sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of
grace?" There is in your case peculiar, tremendous danger lest you will
lose your soul—lest the same influences which have drawn you aside, should
keep you away from God—lest your previous profession of piety may itself
become one of the most serious barriers to your becoming willing even to listen
attentively to God's word—lest your former experience may hinder you forever
from striving to enter in at the strait gate—may shut you up without effort
here, without hope hereafter.
Your case is only not desperate. There is salvation even for such as you,
with Him who "is able to save unto the uttermost." There is pardon for
Deserters, who repent and return. Listen! "Though your sins be as scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be
as wool." It is said that this word scarlet means double dyed. Come, then,
ye double dyed transgressors, who, have broken both God's law and your own
promise—come and try how freely, fully, Jesus can forgive. "Him that
cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out." "The blood of Jesus
Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin."
An impenitent sinner was recently brought into the near prospect of eternity,
and the terrors of God's wrath fell upon him. His friends sent for a minister to
come and counsel and pray with him; but though he sought earnestly to lead him
to Jesus, it seemed of no avail. Every exhortation was met by the mournful
plaint, "it is too late—too late!" The minister spoke of the mercy
of God, of his long suffering under provocation, and of his gracious assurance
that he has "no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that he
turn from his way and live." A bitter groan was the first response; and
then, as a look of agony convulsed his features, he deliberately said:
case is beyond all this. There was a time when God's mercy might have reached
me. In after life I often felt the need of religion, but I could not bear to
give up the pleasure of sin, and I quieted my conscience by resolving to spend
only a few years in sinful indulgences; then I though I would marry, and
promised myself that when once settled down in life, I would without delay give
my heart to God.
"At twenty-four I married, and then again conscience reminded me of my vow,
and claimed its immediate fulfillment. But I was too deeply intoxicated with the
cup of earthly joys to listen to the faithful monitor, and I said, 'Go thy way
for this time also.' "
"Then affliction came, and I was brought to the very borders of the grave.
In bitter agony I sought the mercy-seat; and again I promised that, if spared, I
would at once repent and lead a new life. God's mercy spared me; but with
returning health came renewed cares about my business and family, and the great
business of life was again put off for a more convenient season. That season
never came; serious thoughts and solemn resolutions have often visited me; God's
messages of wrath and of mercy have been sounded in my ears, my broken vows have
clamored loudly of my guilt, and again and again I have promised myself that to-morrow
I would repent. Thus have I passed forty years of the most aggravated folly and
guilt—God's mercies and judgments alike unreguarded; and can you wonder that he
now forsakes the wretch he has so long and so patiently borne with? He is just.
My destruction is the work of my own hands, and I must reap the bitter fruit to
all eternity. Lost, lost, lost! must for ever be my wail."
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