Two winters of singular mildness had led me so far to forget the general characteristics of that dreary season, that when the customary blight fell, somewhat abruptly, on the vegetable world, it startled me to find my garden metamorphosed into a desert. The tall dahlias stood, full-leaved as before; but the verdant robe of yesterday had been changed into gloomy blackness, and stems that lately seemed to support some perennial shrub, were indebted only to the stakes to which we had bound them for the upright position they still maintained. The China rose-trees, with which my garden abounds, presented a less forlorn aspect, because their evergreen mantle was proof against the power of frost; but their numerous buds, lovely and fresh when the setting sun-beam last lingered among them, had drooped their delicate heads in death. I walked on, marking as I passed, two little flowers of the lowly heart's ease in untarnished beauty, smiling at the foot of one of these lofty but disfigured rose-trees ; and proceeded to the spot where my lauristinus, lifting its vigorous head in calm defiance of every blight, was putting out its white buds with more than their wonted profusion ; and there I stood in happy reverie, thinking of the spirit made perfect, of him whom the shrub typifies in my imagination—that devoted old servant of Christ, Charles Seymour, who long gladdened the wrestern wild of poor Ireland with the riches of gospel promise, set forth in her ancient tongue—until my eye wandered to the wall just behind it, which, stretching to some distance on either hand, wears a vestige of Ivy, the growth of many years; of bushy thickness towards the top, where it crowns its supporter with the dark polished berries that beautifully accord with the whole character of the plant. The lauristinus, mingling its upper branches with this ancient friend, appears as of one family, yet different and distinguished n a striking manner. I looked until my tears flowed, for the power of imagination was irrisistible, and the scene which opened on my mind was one of overwhelming interest.
I am not writing fiction ; the objects that I describe are within my view at this moment, distantly visible from my window, and their relative position is precisely what I have stated. But, standing close beside them, under the influence of the wintry air that had desolated the scene around, while seared leaves, wafted from the tall trees above my head, were sinking at my feet, never more to rise from their parent earth—all these things gave a reality to the contemplation not to be felt under other circumstances ; and I record my feelings without expecting any reader to enter into their depth.
The Ivy, as I have formerly observed, is to me a lively representation of the work and the power of faith. Its strength consists in the tenacity with which it clings to something foreign to its own substance, identifying itself, by a wonderful process, writh what it adheres to. Alone, it cannot stand: if you tear it from its prop, down must fall every branch, at the mercy of any trampling foot of man or beast. The analogy in my mind was perfect: there stood the two plants, one, rooted in distinct individuality, needing no prop, fearing no foe, adorned with a white, a beauteous robe, woven by the finger of God ; the other, strong only in conscious weakness, sombre in hue, its very fruit clad in the mourning tint of affliction, yet tending upwards, clustering in fulness proportioned to its growth, and braving every blast in the confidence of its firm fixture to that which could not be moved.—What had I before my eyes, but one glorified member of the triumphant church above and the afflicted, yet highly privileged body of his own dear brethren, the Church of Ireland militant here below!
Militant is the distinguishing epithet of Christ's church, and of each individual belonging unto it, until the warfare being accomplished, the good fight fought, and faith kept unto death, the crown of righteousness is awarded, and the happy spirit becomes incorporated with the church triumphant in heaven. The little babe, whose short breathings are oppressed, and its tiny frame faintly struggling through the few days of its sojourn on earth, is militant here below. The strong youth, robust in health, whose eye sparkles in promise of long and active existence, while his heart, renewed by the secret influences of divine grace, witnesses a conflict hidden from mortal eye, between the law of life written therein, and the law of sin warring in his members, is militant here below. The man of full and sobered age, who has numbered, perhaps, more than half the longest probable duration of human life, who looks round, it may be, on a blooming family of loving and dutiful children, while his soul, bound down by those delicious ties, cleaves to the dust, when he would have it mount upward to the throne of God—howsoever smooth and blissful his lot may seem, is militant here below. The aged servant of Christ, who has borne in the vineyard the heat and burden of the day— the faithful veteran, who, in many a contest with his Master's foes, has come off more than conqueror, through him who loved him: and who, tottering now on life's extremest verge, is regarded as most triumphantly secure of his crown, most enviably nearer to heaven—he too has fightings without and fears within; he too, while the body still detains him, is militant here below.
The universal acknowledgement of all, whether uttered by the lips, or secretely made in the heart's recesses, in that voice of which God alone is cognizant, is ever, " We in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened." I have known some dear self-doubting children of Zion go heavily in perpetual grief, merely because no outward cross was, at that particular time, laid on them. A somewhat closer acquaintance with God and with themselves has never failed, in such cases, to convince them that He, not they, was the best judge when, and how, and of what kind the "discipline prepared for them should be. But the very apprehension engendered by such supposed exclusion from the badge of His servants, was in itself, no light cross ; and they, contending against their own misgivings, were equally militant here below.