Christ Standing and Knocking at the Door
An aged professor was gratified to see that the American Tract Society had resolved to bring out from their press another of the precious works of dear Mr. Flavel. The volumes of this excellent author already published are a rich treasure in many houses; they are replete with evangelical doctrine and spiritual instruction. But the writer has special reasons for esteeming the work now published.
When a young man, he resided for some time in a part of the country where the gospel was seldom preached, and we were doomed for the most part to silent Sabbaths. Once a month, it is true, there was preaching at the distance of five miles; but the minister, though zealous, was very illiterate, and very little benefit we thought could be derived from his ranting vociferation; therefore we seldom attended. Indeed the family, with one exception, were little sensible of their need of religion. The writer confesses, to his shame, that he was ignorant of the nature of religion, and consequently did not feel its necessity. He thought that religion consisted in becoming good; and this, he was persuaded, he could do whenever he should so determine. And he therefore felt no concern about the matter.
But there was an old, infirm lady who, though she had once lived in affluence, was now, through the profligacy of a bad husband, reduced to poverty and dependence, and occupied the situation of a superintendent of the nursery in the family in which the writer was a teacher. This old lady possessed a large folio, containing all the published works of Flavel, and greatly delighted in reading his writings; but having weak eyes, she was able to read but little at a time, and would often request other members of the family to read to her. Sometimes this favor was asked of the writer, who through courtesy complied, though the subjects were in no wise congenial to his taste.
One of these vacant Sabbaths, when we were at a loss how to dispose of the lingering hours, she brought her book into the parlor, and requested me to read to the family, and pointed out the part which she wished read. It was a part of the discourse on the text, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” etc. I took the book with reluctance, and read until I came to the word “stand,” on which the author expatiates on the long-suffering and patience of Christ in waiting so long on sinners, while they pay no attention to his calls. This discourse impressed my mind in a manner it never had been before; and I was unable to proceed, but making an apology, closed the book and sought a place of retirement, where I wept profusely. And this was the commencement of impressions which were never entirely effaced. From this time secret prayer, before neglected, was frequently engaged in; and although I had no idea that I was converted until months after these first impressions, yet from this time my views in regard to religion were entirely changed. I now found a pleasure in reading out of Flavel to the good old lady, and even borrowed the book to peruse it alone; so that my first practical knowledge of the nature and evidences of true religion were derived from this excellent author. This pious woman, who had a fine understanding, and had received a good education, often spoke to me on the subject, and related her own experience, yet I never disclosed any thing of my feelings to her. But before she died, she had the opportunity of learning that I had made a public profession of religion, in which I understood she greatly rejoiced.
You may well suppose, therefore, Messrs. Editors, that I was gratified in observing that you had published a book from which I received my first religious impressions, which have continued for no less than threescore years. No doubt this attachment to an author, and esteem for his writings, may be accounted for without the supposition of any extraordinary intrinsic excellence; but now, when I impartially judge of Flavel’s writings, I cannot help coming to the conclusion that they are among the very best of the many valuable writings of the Puritans.