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    by Mike McHugh

A Child's Greatest Need - Part 4 - Alonzo continued
Date Posted: September 13, 2007

In spite of his wretched spiritual condition, a merciful and patient God continued to preserve and protect Alonzo, and so he grew and matured. From twelve he passed on to fifteen, and from fifteen to twenty. He steadily developed into a strong, athletic young adult, known and esteemed by many in the tiny community in which he resided. As Alonzo was poised to begin his journey into manhood, he was fully capable of presenting a fairly impressive show of external religious piety. The true condition of his soul at this point in his life, however, was a rather different story, for in the secret place of his heart he still lacked a genuine relationship with his Maker. His standing before God might be summed up in the following fashion.

First, the external excellence of his character arose from the influence of his excellent education. This fact would not have been held against Alonzo, if it had been of the right kind. They resulted, however, from the restraints that were imposed upon him by the opinions of others, from the influence of a conscience which had been cultivated by his parents, and ultimately from the discomfort he felt when he acted directly counter to his moral habits. His noble work ethic, for instance, was based upon the last, his regard for the Sabbath upon the second, and his general good conduct upon the positive influence of others.

Second, he made no regular systematic effort to improve his character. In fact, he felt little interest in any plan of this kind. He was quite interested in issues that pertained to the operation of his father’s farm, but his heart was mostly captivated by the amusements he could have with his young friends after work hours. In the evenings, Alonzo was commonly occupied with some youth outing or special social gathering, and during each workday was busy planning on what he would do around the farm on the following day. His life glided on in this manner from one day to the next. I do not mean that he was entirely careless about his character and prospects as a moral being, for he did sometimes exhibit a little uneasiness about them. Such discoveries as I have already described, gave him an occasional glimpse into the secrets of his heart. As to his character, he knew that it was superficially fair. He prided himself upon the appearance it presented towards others, and he did not see how he could improve it much without making a thorough investigation into the motives of his heart, and that was of no interest to him at all.

Finally, there was no connection between his soul and God. By this I mean no spiritual connection, no communion, no genuine fellowship or feeling. He was taught, it is true, to repeat a prayer morning and evening, and this practice he continued for many years considering it as one of his duties. As he grew older, however, Alonzo often began to neglect his morning prayers, and gradually came to the point where he stopped praying in the evening as well. This gradual pattern of neglect in his spiritual life did not trouble him as much as it might have been expected, for he began to think that the practice of morning and evening prayers was intended primarily for children. When Alonzo did remember his duty to pray, it was only a mere form. So far as his attitude of heart was concerned, he lived in independence of his Maker. God was irrelevant.

Such was Alonzo’s condition during the winter before he was to be twenty-one. One evening during that winter, a meeting was scheduled at a local schoolhouse. A special speaker was invited to come from some distance in order to preach the Gospel to those in the community who desired to hear a message concerning the Christian faith. On such occasions, the schoolhouse was often filled to capacity. The congregation was comprised, for the most part, of families who lived and worked on the farms that were located in the general area. These people came to hear the preacher for many different reasons. Some came out of curiosity. Some came because it would afford them a good excuse to get out of the house on a lovely winter evening, some because they wanted to visit with friends, while others came out of a genuine interest to know how they could deepen their relationship with their Maker.

Several days later, at six o’clock in the evening, Alonzo could be seen harnessing a strong, fleet horse onto a colorfully painted sleigh. He and his parents had decided to attend the special gathering at the schoolhouse, so after Alonzo’s parents were seated comfortably in the back of the sleigh, he proceeded to drive away down the valley. They were soon lost to sight as the winding road took them through a dense forest of trees, amidst the jingling of bells. Very soon, as their journey continued, the sleigh-bells began to grow fainter and fainter, and soon were nearly lost upon the human ear.

A little before nine that same evening, Alonzo and his parents might have been seen returning slowly up the valley. The moon had risen and it shone through the trees, casting a beautiful white light upon the snowy wreaths that hung upon them. The horse walked along slowly, as Alonzo made occasional marks with his whip upon the smooth surface of the snow that boarded the road. He was lost in thought. The subject of the sermon was of the importance of preparation for another world, and for reasons known only to God, this message made a strong impression upon him. It was not, however, an impression made by any extraordinary eloquence. The speaker, in a quiet, simple manner presented truths that Alonzo had heard many times before, though in previous instances such points had stopped at the ear. This night, they seemed to penetrate to his heart. Alonzo emerged from the meeting quiet and thoughtful. He rode home silently. Their seemed to be a new view opening before his mind. The future world seemed to be much more real to him. It looked near, and Alonzo wondered why he had not been making additional efforts to prepare for it. His father and mother rode in silence as well, each unconscious of the thoughts of the other, but both thinking of their son. A rare and divine influence was moving upon the hearts of all.

These serious thoughts passed away the next day, and yet, they left behind a more distinct impression than he had been accustomed to feeling that he had a great work to do for God before he left the world. It also became much clearer to Alonzo that before he could begin to fulfil his God-given destiny, he would need to find out what was missing in his relationship with the Almighty.

Alonzo began to be more careful about saying his prayers each day, and he made greater effort to think about what his prayers actually meant. It is true that there is a great, and one would suppose, sufficiently obvious distinction between having the meaning of a prayer in mind, and having the feelings and desires it expresses in the heart. But Alonzo, in spite of his genuine sincerity, was still incapable of perceiving this distinction. He thought very distinctly of the meaning of the several successive petitions and confessions that he offered up, and that was as far as he was inclined to take it. This activity seemed good enough to him, or at least a satisfactory beginning, for his heart had yet to be fully awakened by the Lord.

Alonzo’s attention was occupied early the next morning by an excursion into the forest for a load of wood with his father, and he completely forgot about his new religious resolutions until the evening. This discouraged him a little, however, he again offered his prayer with an effort to keep its meaning in mind, though this effort was less successful than on the previous evening. His thoughts would slip away from his control, and while he was saying, “my sins have been numerous and aggravated,” or “lead me not into temptation,” he would find that his mind was dwelling on the activities of the day instead of on the Lord. Alonzo was so dissatisfied with his prayer that he began again from the beginning, though with not much better success than before. He was upset with himself because he was unable to confine his attention to what he described as the “task” of prayer. Alonzo simply could not understand that the nature of his problem stemmed from the fact that he had a heart that was alienated from God and governed by its own selfish interests. Willingly deceived, he was spiritually blind.

Alonzo’s second attempt at communion with God, though easily as lame as his first effort, was regarded by him as quite satisfactory, and he gradually fell asleep. Weeks passed on, and Alonzo continued his feeble efforts to be a religious man. He said nothing, however, to other people about his efforts to prepare for eternity. In fact, he had no real interest in letting anyone know that he had any intention of serving God. Whether this attitude of heart was due to his being ashamed of being seen in the service of his Master, or because he thought that his new feelings were of so high a nature that modesty demanded that he conceal them, we do not say. He was, at any rate, very careful to conceal them.

Not surprisingly, Alonzo made no genuine progress as a spiritual being as he pursued God in this half-hearted manner, for his mind and heart were captivated by the things of this world. Weeks passed, then months, yet it seemed to the farm boy named Alonzo that he remained in the same place in his quest to be more religious. The truth was that there was a current carrying him down which he did not perceive, but whose effects at distant intervals were very evident. He moved like the little water skipper whose motions he had often watched on his father’s brook, who now and then makes a convulsive effort to ascend on the water’s surface, but who is borne continually backwards by a current that is steady and unceasing.

Alonzo was like the skipper in other respects as well. He too was focused only on his repeated efforts to make progress, while being oblivious to the slow, gentle operation of the current that was continually carrying him down stream. His attention was turned up stream, where all seemed smooth and sunny, as a result he could not see the dark gulf that yawned behind him. On rare occasions, Alonzo could recognize that his efforts to progress as a spiritual being were all uphill, yet he could scarcely tell why. The journey of life seemed to him as something mysterious and confusing, as he continued his efforts to move forward in spite of the fact that he was not advancing in any meaningful fashion.

The confused farm boy was soon busy convincing himself that his lack of progress was due, at least in part, to the intense cold and general dreariness of the harsh winter weather. He concluded, therefore, that when the warm spring evenings arrived he could enjoy more time for solitude and spiritual reflection. Spring would be a more convenient season. When spring finally arrived, however, he became rather pressed for time because it was planting season. But when planting was done there was haying to do, and after haying, harvesting. As harvest time approached, he was quite certain that after the harvest he would find the time to resume his quest for a closer walk with God. During all this time, Alonzo actually convinced himself that he was truly watching for an opportunity to do his duty before God, but he was profoundly deceived. The reality was that he possessed an innate dislike for the work of repentance.

As Alonzo approached manhood, there was a strange inconsistency in his thinking. Whenever he made any effort to purify or reform his heart, he found that he lacked the will power to follow through with his good intentions. Still, he clung to the notion that he could perform the task of spiritual reformation easily if only the circumstances were right. It was this glaring contradiction in Alonzo’s mind that enabled him to embrace the cherished belief that their was no need to be overly concerned about eternity, for he could prepare for it whenever he had sufficient time. This postponement of a thorough attention to his spiritual duty did not, therefore, give Alonzo any particular anxiety.

Alonzo’s father had purchased a small farm for him a mile or two from his own property. For some months, Alonzo had been very engaged in his preparations for taking possession of it when he turned twenty-one. In the months that followed his birthday, Alonzo was engrossed in the task of repairing and outfitting his new farm, including the work of planting the first seed into the ground. During these months he remained a member of his father’s family, his own little farmhouse being empty and desolate. Occasionally, however, a piece of furniture was brought there and he would carry it in and fix it in its place with a look of satisfaction. First came the birch bureau, then a half-dozen chairs, and finally, supplies for the kitchen as well as a table and bed. It was not long before the house actually began to look like it was fit to be occupied.

Finally, one evening, lights were seen in Alonzo’s home by the distant neighbors. The lights shone in both rooms, for their were but two. Many friends and family members had been busy helping to put the final touches on the home earlier that day, and at eight o’clock Alonzo drove up to the door of his new dwelling, and parked his sleigh. He then proceeded to help his new bride down from the back of the sleigh, for Alonzo had just recently returned from a brief honeymoon with the woman he had chosen to be his wife. This young women was escorted into her new home by a small group of loving friends.

Alonzo, meanwhile, led his horse away to the barn and proceeded to take off its harness. He then fastened the animal to a nearby stall that had already been cleaned and equipped with a healthy supply of hay by the hand of friendly neighbors. While completing these chores, he could not help thinking of his obligations to God for the many blessings that He had showered upon him and his new bride over the last year. He thought that he should be grateful. But this, as he afterwards found, was a different thing from actually being grateful. At any rate, Alonzo could not help thinking of his obligations to God in light of the fact that he was now the head of a new household. The question that came immediately to mind, was whether he should begin the important exercise of evening family prayer that first night in his new home.

That old voice within his heart whispered, “It is your duty to pray with your wife, and to encourage her spiritual growth.”

“You will not do it properly, besides, remember how busy and tired you are this night,” responded the false voice of carnal reason.

“Still,” insisted the voice of conscience in reply, “it is your duty, and you must begin tonight in order to start things out right.”

“You had better wait a day or two until you get settled,’ said a lying spirit of evasion and delay.

Aware of the urgency of the situation, the voice of conscience repeated, “It is your duty to your wife and to your God, do it tonight.”

Distracted by these discordant thoughts within him, Alonzo cut short their clamor by saying to himself that he could not begin that night, and hurried in to his home. As soon as he reached the door, the murmuring of his conscience grew feeble, and soon died completely away.

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Biography Information:
This column is written by the staff at Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights, Illinois. As a pioneer in the homeschool movement, Christian Liberty ministries has been operating a full service, K-12 home school program for over thirty years and a Christian textbook ministry (Christian Liberty Press), since 1985. The mission of Christian Liberty is to provide parents with quality, affordable educational products and services that will enable them to teach their children in the home and to train their children to serve Christ in every area of life. A more extensive explanation of the CLASS home school program can be obtained at www.homeschools.org.
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