The Faithful Elder

Archibald Alexander

The following sketch is from memory, and relates to the last century.

J. L– was the son of pious parents in humble circumstances. He was brought up to labor on the farm, and was restrained from open vice by his religious education, and by a regard to the authority and feelings of his parents. On a certain Sabbath, there being no preaching in the immediate neighborhood of his father’s residence, he had formed the purpose to attend a great meeting at the distance of twelve or fifteen miles. He owned a young horse on which he intended to ride to the place, but on going to the pasture in the morning to bridle the colt, he eluded all his attempts to catch him, and he was obliged to return to the house foiled, disappointed, and much chagrined. How to spend the wearisome day he knew not.

At length the thought struck him that he would take a book and go out into the woods and amuse himself with reading. He stepped to the bookcase and seized the first book which came to hand, which happened to be Doddridge’s Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul. It being summer, he sought a cool, shady, and sequestered spot, where he lay down and began at the beginning of his author, and there is reason to believe that the Holy Spirit accompanied every truth which engaged his thoughts with a divine influence, for, as he assured the writer, he was deeply convinced of sin on reading the first chapters, and when he came to the expiation of Christ and the method of salvation, the whole plan was opened to his believing mind, and he deliberately embraced the Savior as offered in the gospel, and was filled with peace and joy. Thus, this young man went out into the woods in an unconverted and condemned state, and in a few hours returned a renewed man, freely justified by the grace which is in Christ Jesus. In due time he entered the communion of the church, and became an active, zealous professor, at a time when great lukewarmness had taken possession of the church. He married an intelligent woman, who by the force of his example and instructions embraced religion, and became as zealous and more communicative than her husband. They lived happily, and were blessed with three sons and two daughters.

About middle age he was elected a ruling elder in the church to which he belonged, and in this office he received grace to be faithful. He held up the hands of his minister, and defended his character from calumnies attempted to be heaped upon him. He visited the poor, and contrived methods of relief; wherever there was sickness, J. L– was to be found sympathizing with the sufferers, and offering up fervent prayers for the recovery of the sick, and for a blessing on the rod of affliction. By this means prayer was introduced into families where the voice of supplication had never before been heard.

The writer when a boy had an awful dread of this man, and shunned him for fear he would speak to him about religion, but a little sister being very sick, he was pleased to see this faithful man come to the house. He sympathized and advised with the parents, and spent the night in watching with the sick child; but what affected all most, was his prayer, so fervent, so affectionate, so appropriate. It was felt as if surely the Lord would hear and answer such a prayer.

When few professors kept themselves unspotted from the world, this man and his wife stood firm in their adherence to truth and duty. Worldly amusements were introduced by some influential professors; strict religion was scorned and the liberal professor was lauded; but our elder could not be moved to favor dancing and cards. He set his face resolutely against all such practices as inimical to the spirit of true religion. He faithfully warned professors against the deadening influence of these innocent amusements, as they were called; and when private exhortation and remonstrance failed, he had the fidelity to present the cases of such professors to the session to be dealt with as acting inconsistently with their Christian profession. This exposed him to a load of obloquy; and he was clamored against as an enemy of all cheerfulness and enjoyment. Some ministers also took sides against him, and their opinions and example were published by multitudes who never remembered any of his pious sayings. J. L–, however, went on his course unmoved; and though hated and dreaded by the wicked, whenever anyone became serious he was immediately sought out, and his counsel and sympathy and prayers were always cheerfully bestowed. The state of religion in the land seemed to grow worse and worse just after the close of the revolutionary war, until he and his wife and a few others seemed to be left alone. But even in this time, the presence of this tall gray-headed elder would strike an awe into the minds of the most careless. One day he had business with a man who was at a dancing party in a private house, and when he approached the house consternation seized the company, and at once the fiddling and dancing ceased. He, however, administered no reproof to the company, but transacted his business and departed.

It pleased a gracious God, about the year 1789, to revive religion with extraordinary power in all the country around where he lived. It was what he had prayed for night and day, but scarcely hoped to see, for he had never before witnessed what is called a revival. Almost his whole time was now spent in conversing with the new converts. I have known him often to ride six or seven miles to see persons under religious impressions. And he would labor with them in the most earnest and affectionate manner, and would bring to them suitable books, for he was much conversant with the most spiritual and experimental authors. Many were deeply indebted to his faithful labors, and none more than the author of this article.